EF Language takes Leg 6 lead, looks to pour it on WEEK IN REVIEW

March 25, 1998|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

EF Language, the overall leader in the Whitbread Round the World Race, has led a furious charge past the Equator and into the northeast trade winds during the past several days, picking off competitors one by one.

On Monday, the Swedish boat sailed past Britain's Silk Cut to take the lead on Leg 6, from Sao Sebastiao, Brazil, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Boat speeds have been so high that the fleet is expected in Floriseveral days early.

EF Language skipper Paul Cayard said yesterday that the Swedish entry's speed is because of its wide beam, the stiffness of its hull and frequent sail changes in the 20- to 27-knot easterly winds of the past 36 hours.

"These sail changes are always a bit nerve-racking, because all you have to go on is numbers - data from before compared with numbers now," Cayard said in an e-mail yesterday. "You get a change in the direction or the speed of the wind, and then you no longer have up the right sail."

Cayard said he has been pushing hard the past several days to build a big lead as the fleet nears Barbuda and prepares for the last turn toward Fort Lauderdale. While EF Language is well suited to the conditions of the past several days, he said, once the turn is made and the fleet sails farther off the wind, boat speed is expected to fall off significantly.

Silk Cut still holds second place, ahead of Norway's Innovation Kvaerner and Swedish Match, which has moved up from last place to fourth during the past several days. Swedish Match sailed the most easterly course of the fleet and has been rolling over boats to leeward.

"It is a trade-off at the moment, whether you want to cash in early, hoist a bigger sail, bear away and roll the boats to leeward," Innovation Kvaerner skipper Knut Frostad said yesterday, as Swedish Match closed to within six miles. "Or if you delay the cashing in to later because you expect more pressure to the north."

The approach to Barbuda is critical, Frostad said, because a miscalculation of the lay line could result in heavy losses. "It is very important to get the right angle to wind when approaching the island," Frostad said. "[In] heavy air, we need a more open wind angle, and in light wind we want a tighter course to the wind. It is difficult to predict what is going to happen."

Monaco's Merit Cup and skipper Grant Dalton have fought their way into fifth place after lagging in the lower half of the fleet for much of the leg, but Barbuda offers a chance to take advantage of mistakes that might be made by other crews.

"It's a time for very sharp tactics," Dalton said.

The leaders are expected to reach Barbuda tomorrow and complete the remaining 1,100-nautical-mile sprint to Fort Lauderdale as early as Sunday.

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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