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Paul Cayard Faces the Final Leg

By Bob Fisher

May 20, 1998

Paul Cayard
Paul Cayard, the winning skipper.
"We're going for the win, trying to win the [last] leg," said Paul Cayard just two days before the start of the final leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race was due to leave the ancient French port bound for Southampton. Already the winner — EF Language has to sail the last leg under the terms of the rules of the race Cayard is determined to finish as he started. "It's rather like an accountancy procedure," he said, "First out, first in."

EF Language was the first boat out of the Solent after the start from Cowes last September and eight months and 31,000 miles later, Cayard and his crew feel that their's should be the honour, as race winners, to be first home.

"We don't have to worry about the volatility of the leg," he added, "we can use all the on-board talent to achieve our aim."

On the eighth, transatlantic, leg from Annapolis, Cayard had to be conservative. "We had formed a plan in Brazil that would put us in a position that sailing the final leg would not be necessary in our score line to win," he explained.

He didn't like the thought of what is bound to be a tricky leg tactically having a major bearing on the final outcome. He achieved that by sitting tight on Swedish Match for 3,450 miles.

It didn't matter that EF Language was sixth, simply that she was one place ahead of Gunnar Krantz in Swedish Match. By doing so, she finished with 115 more points than the overall second-placed Swedish boat, and with only 105 points available to the winner of the final leg, there was no chance of being overtaken.

"It may not have looked pretty," said Cayard, "but we are very happy that we employed the professional tactic. I do not, however, regard the race as over until we are at Southampton."

For Cayard, success in the Whitbread was "winning in an unlikely situation." He explained that before the start, he was coming into someone else's world, one where he would be exposing his reputation, but in which he could see the benefits of involvement in this sector of the sport.

He was certainly not the favourite, "Toshiba with Chris Dickson, and Lawrie Smith in Silk Cut were both ranked ahead of me, but Dickson dropped out and Smith didn't shine until well after half-way.

"I knew it was a big deal and that I hadn't paid my dues in the offshore environment. I hadn't done a single leg of the Whitbread and never raced for longer than ten days. I was out of my depth, but we feel that anyone who are as good sailors as we are, never goes into a race without envisioning victory, so we thought we could win."

Cayard's frank assessment of his chances was exactly the same as he had stated eight months ago. He was an accepted small-boat sailor. "When I won the Star world championship, he added, "it was after three second places. I deserved it."

After winning the first leg, by adopting a generally mid-line course while the rest wavered, chasing predicted weather patterns, Cayard says they made big mistakes on the second leg, but he and the crew were proactive in analysing what went wrong.

"It is a bigger victory than I perhaps deserve," he said and went on to compare it to Mike McIntyre's victory in the Star class at the 1988 Olympics. "He'd only sailed 23 races in the class and seven of those were at the Games." On a different tack, he declared, "The [Whitbread] game is changing for the established ocean racers — the house that was built is under reconstruction."

The victory has brought him a new confidence in his search for America's Cup sponsors. "Nothing that I could have done would have been better," he said, "It was significant in attracting Hewlett-Packard, the first of four major sponsors we need. They had obviously scrutinised the field, and with them on-side, we have better chances for the other three."

Friday, May 20, sees the final leg start, the last time Paul Cayard will sail a Whitbread leg. Not because he may not race around the world again, but because, in future, this becomes the Volvo Ocean Race. "If I had the money to start right now," he said somewhat wistfully, "I would make big strides with a sail development program. That is where there are the biggest gains to be made."


Bob Fisher is a renowned nautical scribe living in Lymington, England.

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