Silk Cut steals leg from rival EF Language second as boats arrive in Fla.

March 30, 1998|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Splashing past a handful of spectators and an occasional pelican, Britain's Silk Cut finished Leg 6 of the Whitbread Round the World Race first yesterday, ending a streak of trouble that has hampered the team since the race began last fall.

After traveling three-quarters of the way around the globe, this was the first time a competitor in this international race has reached U.S. waters. Sweden's EF Language, the overall race leader, finished second little more than an hour after Silk Cut, followed by the Swedish team Swedish Match.

Meanwhile, Chessie Racing, the Maryland team, was battling through the Bahamas for a sixth-place finish with U.S. entry Toshiba, both of which are expected to arrive around 6 a.m. today. When the race sets out for Baltimore in three weeks, Chessie is likely to be in fourth or fifth place overall, depending on what happens today in its duel with Toshiba.

Although few spectators watched the arrival of the boats yesterday -- about 100 people stood on shore shouting, "Hip, hip, hooray!" after the boat's 8: 55 a.m. finish -- Silk Cut clearly savored its victory.

Skipper Lawrie Smith stood at the wheel as the hull, decorated with an open-mouthed shark, cut through the deep blue waters off Florida. Approaching the finish line, a crew member lighted him a cigarette (Silk Cut brand, of course, for the boat's cigarette-maker sponsor). Before the team even got off the boat, the dozen men lustily dug into beers and hamburgers handed to them from shore.

Racing with little but their sails and the clothes on their backs, Smith and his teammates had foregone all such indulgences in their 15-day sprint from Sao Sebastiao, Brazil.

"We've had no sleep for the last 24 hours," Smith said of the race, in which crew members sweltered below decks in 100-degree-plus temperatures. "The heat was pretty unbearable -- it was pretty hard to sleep."

This race did much to buoy the spirits of Silk Cut, which had yet to gain even a third-place finish before yesterday, even though it had been one of the prerace favorites.

After winning the grueling Southern Ocean leg in the 1993-94 Whitbread, Smith had garnered a reputation as a brash sailor who could handle the world's toughest seas. But his mast broke in the Southern Ocean portion of Leg 5 this year, and his team ended up tied for last place in the leg.

This win was especially sweet for Silk Cut because the British boat stole the leg from EF Language. Even so, EF Language's second-place finish solidifies its overall lead.

The rivalry between the teams has not been confined to the water. Smith and EF Language skipper Paul Cayard battled during the last stopover as well, a controversy that followed them to Florida.

In that dispute, Cayard asked Smith to divulge details about how his mast broke, because EF Language's mast was made by the same manufacturer. Smith told Cayard he'd be happy to reveal that valuable information -- for money.

Cayard, a garrulous American from San Francisco, stands in stark contrast to the stiff-upper-lip demeanor of Smith, a wiry Englishman. Yesterday, they couldn't hide those differences.

"I don't mind if Lawrie Smith beats me or doesn't beat me, but the way he wants to play the game, by charging me money or not charging me money, that's his M.O.," said Cayard, still standing on the deck of EF Language only minutes after finishing the leg.

"That says a lot about what he's in the game for," he continued. "I'm in the game to win."

But Smith has complained that Cayard's request was out-of-place in a competitive race and resisted Cayard's suggestion that men on EF Language would be in danger without the information.

"[In] what sort of sport do you do your competitors a favor?" Smith asked.

EF Language, with 608 standings points, has a 115-point lead, a lead that could be jeopardized only by major breakdowns and tactical errors in the next three legs. But no one has given up yet.

"Everything's possible," Silk Cut's Smith said. EF Language, he added, "could break two" masts.

In the rest of the fleet, Norway's Innovation Kvaerner finished fourth late last night. Monaco's Merit Cup was expected to finish fifth overnight. The Netherlands' BrunelSunergy is in eighth position, followed by EF Education, with its all-female crew, in last place.

With most of their competitors still at sea yesterday, Smith and his navigator Vincent Geake enjoyed their afternoon off, piling into a purple convertible (the same color as their team uniforms) and took off for long-awaited showers.

"Drive on," said Geake, puffing a fat cigar. "Finally!"

Pub Date: 3/30/98

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