Leg 6: Trick is to get early lead Boat that beats Doldrums and reaches trade winds first will be hard to catch

March 11, 1998|By GILBERT A. LEWTHWAITE | GILBERT A. LEWTHWAITE,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SAO SEBASTIAO, Brazil - The next leg in the Whitbread Round the World Race is perhaps the trickiest. The winds can be tTC fickle, the Doldrums have to be crossed, and the north-flowing Gulf Stream must be negotiated before the 4,750 nautical miles to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., are finished.

The secret of success in Leg 6, according to American Paul Cayard, skipper of overall leader EF Language of Sweden, will be to seize an early lead off the east coast of Brazil, be lucky in finding a path through the Doldrums, and be first to pick up the trade winds in the Caribbean.

"A 50-mile lead somewhere along the Caribbean chain would be pretty significant, very hard to knock down," Cayard said.

Juan Vila, navigator on Chessie Racing, the Maryland entry in the nine-yacht fleet, agreed: "The main tactical opportunities are going to be off the coast of Brazil and through the Doldrums."

The first decision for the skippers will be how far to head off the coast to find the northeasterly winds generated by the South Atlantic High, which dominates the weather pattern. These should provide good reaching - sailing with the wind from the side of the boat.

The winds can be strong close to shore, but they are also fluky, responding to the effects of the land. Heading out to sea, however, adds miles to the course.

The Doldrums, with their patience-testing calms and nerve-jingling squalls, are likely to be less of a factor on the way north than they were when the boats crossed them heading south from Southampton, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, on Leg 1.

"Sometimes it depends on half an hour's timing where you can go through, or not go through," said Vila, sailing his third Whitbread. "But they are not as important as on Leg 1 because the area of light winds is not as wide."

Said Cayard: "You are going to have to be on your toes, maybe a little lucky to find a path through that doesn't park you for six hours."

Once through the Doldrums, the boats will pick up the easterly or southeasterly trades. These are consistent winds, and the first boat to find them is likely to stretch its lead.

From then on, it should be plain sailing up to the Gulf Stream, which runs between Florida and the Bahamas, frequently at three knots, fast enough to make crossing it tricky in light air.

The risk is that a boat that misjudges the crossing point could be swept north and have to fight its way back against the current, or could see another boat overtake it on a different course. It is the final judgment call on the way to Fort Lauderdale.

"With a fast boat and a good crew, we can be there," Vila said. Chessie is fourth overall in the nine-month, 31,600-nautical-mile circumnavigation after finishing third in the past three legs.

"Obviously we will have more pressure because we need to do well in the next leg. We feel the boat is very fast. We know the potential," Vila said. "We are really looking forward to doing better than third in some legs."

Race update

The Whitbread Watch is a weekly log of the Round the World Race. Look for it every Wednesday in The Sun.

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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