Leg 5: Sailing's ultimate challenge Southern Ocean, icebergs, Cape Horn - even tropics - await Whitbread fleet

The Whitbread Watch

January 28, 1998|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

Running before the wind, cascading down one steep wave, then careening into the back of the next before flying over its crest, is what attracts most sailors to the Whitbread Round the World Race.

It is not a typical sailing experience.

Leg 5, which begins Sunday in Auckland, New Zealand, is 6,670-nautical-mile passage to Sao Sebastiao, Brazil, and it offers even more.

Winds of 40 to 50 knots and gusting higher. Wave heights of 30 feet. Boat speeds exceeding 30 knots. Snow squalls, icebergs and water-swept decks. Even the chance to work on suntans in the tropics.

Then there's Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America.

Considered by sailors to be one of the great challenges at sea, rounding Cape Horn, with its rocky, shipwreck-strewn shores deep in the frigid waters where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans meet, is often compared to conquering Mount Everest.

Not only will the sailors head south to the Southern Ocean - as they did on Leg 2 - they will have to dive the deepest into the Southern Hemisphere, beyond the latitudes of the Roaring Forties and into the Fantastic Fifties.

Cape Horn is situated at 57 degrees latitude south. It is notorious for its sudden shifts in weather, unpredictable winds and violent, nerve-racking seas.

Surviving the leg is a victory itself. And because the leg is considered to be the most difficult of the race, at stake is 135 points for the winner - the most for any of the legs. Five of the fleet's nine boats, from second-place Merit Cup to sixth-place Chessie Racing, are within 39 to 78 points, respectively, of EF Language, the overall standings leader with 372 points.

This is a make-or-break opportunity, and a good showing by any of the contending entries can catapult it into the lead and improve its chances of winning the race when the fleet completes its nine-month, 31,600-nautical-mile circumnavigation in Southampton, England, in May. A poor showing among any of the contenders will make it all but impossible to contend seriously again in the race.

"Rounding Cape Horn will be one of our most significant moments," said EF Language's American skipper Paul Cayard, who arrived in Auckland in fourth place on Leg 4. "But that's what we've come for. That's what makes the Whitbread so special."

While Cayard and his crew aboard the Swedish boat have won two legs so far, their poorest showing occurred on Leg 2, from Cape Town, South Africa, across the Southern Ocean to Fremantle, Australia, when they finished fifth.

Cayard said he's learned from that experience and expected to do better on Leg 5, but he also acknowledged to the Whitbread Race Office that the boat to beat into Sao Sebastiao is Britain's Silk Cut, with Whitbread veteran skipper Lawrie Smith aboard.

Silk Cut has proved its ability to sail at high speeds over distances in downwind conditions. Smith and his crew set a world record of 449.1 nautical miles during a 24-hour period during the Southern Ocean portion of Leg 2.

More than three-quarters of Leg 5 is expected to be sailed in downwind conditions, from Auckland to Cape Horn, before the fleet turns north and races up the eastern coast of South America, gradually entering warming waters and temperatures, then finally reaching Brazil and its tropical climate.

The winner of the leg is expected to cross the finish line in Sao Sebastiao after 23 days at sea.

Standings after Leg 4

Boat (Country).. .. .. .. .. .. ..Pts.

EF Language (Sweden).. .. .. .. ..372

Merit Cup (Monaco).. .. .. .. .. .333

Swedish Match (Sweden).. .. .. ...313

Innovation Kvaerner (Norway) .. ..307

Toshiba (U.S.) .. .. .. .. .. .. .299

Chessie Racing (U.S.) .. .. .. ...294

Silk Cut (Britain) .. .. .. .. ...258

EF Education (Sweden) .. .. .. ...100

BrunelSunergy (Netherlands) .. ....96

America's Challenge (U.S.)** .. ...48

**Withdrew from race

More coverage

Television: Sunday, 6 p.m., Fort Lauderdale Boat Show, ESPN2; Feb. 5, 1:30 a.m., Auckland to Sao Sebastiao, ESPN.

Internet: For more of The Sun's coverage of the Whitbread, go to www.sunspot.net/whitbread/. Other sites include: www.whitbread.org www.us.net/whitbread/

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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