Never Leave Anything to ChanceBy Bob Fisher
April 23, 1998
Within moments of Paul Cayard finishing the 870-mile "sprint" leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race, he said, "We are going to examine the boat for delamination." He went on to describe the rugged conditions which they had experienced when going to windward in the Gulf Stream current for 24 hours. "The waves were 10-12 feet and square edged," he said, "and when you dropped off them, the boat would shudder. It was as if the mast was trying to pound its way out of the bottom of the boat."
Even with the improved scantlings required by the class rules for this race, Cayard is mindful of what ocean conditions did to the Whitbread 60s during the 1993-94 Whitbread Race when all of them suffered delamination of the hull skins with shearing of the structural foam between them, and fracturing of the ring frames that reinforce the hull. To examine the boat properly, it has to be stripped of every piece of equipment below decks, including the bunks and galley, so that ultrasonic equipment can be utilised.
Preparations for the examination began within an hour of EF Language crossing the finishing line off Baltimore's historic Fort McHenry (where Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star Spangled Banner" while aboard a ship during the War of 1812). Not for Cayard's crew the luxury of standing around celebrating, like the rest they were stripping the boat of sails and gear so that it could be ready for the crane the following morning when the mast would be removed and the boat hauled out of the water for the detailed examination to begin.
The Whitbread is like the America's Cup, or any other regatta for that matter, in that it requires constant maintenance to guarantee high performance. Only by ensuring that there are no possible reasons for failure can a crew concentrate on the job in hand that of winning races. Paul knows exactly what he has to do to win the Whitbread and has done since the outset, but it has been a constantly changing game. He thought that he would have to come from behind in the second half of the race, but has instead been in the position of protecting the lead.
It was this which determined his strategy on the seventh leg. "We could have taken the same course as BrunelSunergy," said Paul, "but the greater plan dictated that we stayed with Swedish Match." The two leading boats hardly ever had as much as three miles between them and most of the time were much closer, finishing 30 seconds apart. But a move begun 12 hours into the race by Roy Heiner on BrunelSunergy had put the Dutch boat into an unassailable lead. Paul fought it out with Gunnar Krantz and seemingly took the upper hand in Chesapeake Bay.
"We set up to pass Swedish Match and did so, but then the wind went light. I had tacked twice to be right on their face," said Paul, "the wind died, came back for him first and he got a puff from Jesus that lifted him back over us." Paul went on to add knowingly, "I've won yacht races, too."
Even then, the EF crew came back at their rival and were close when they crossed the line. EF Language's lead was, as a result, reduced from 115 to 104 points, but with 220 points available from the last two legs, two fifth places would be enough to guarantee EF Language the overall victory if Swedish Match were to win both of them.
Bob Fisher is a renowned nautical scribe living in Lymington, England.
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