By Mark Rudiger, EF Language Navigator
Two weeks before the start of the Whitbread Round the World Race for the Volvo Trophy, I was racing aboard Sayonara in Sardinia, trying to clinch this year's Maxi Worlds. A week later, I was in Southampton, England, as the newly appointed navigator aboard EF Language. I was charged with cramming a month's worth of preparation into the one week remaining before we embarked upon our 32,000-mile ocean odyssey.
Discussing Leg 1 strategy.
It was with great relief that skipper Paul Cayard and Team EF were at my disposal to get electronics, computers, weather analysis and whatever I needed on board. As usual, Cayard had surrounded himself with a well-organized group of professionals with a positive attitude. Although I was starting the race with my area of responsibility somewhat under construction, the systems and information were in place to compete at a winning level.
While the odds makers were uninformed regarding EF Language's chances, more knowledgeable reporters and skippers were heard to say, "Don't underestimate Cayard. He'll be right there in the front of the pack." No one knew then how prophetic those words were.
On a perfect day for beginning the race, we made our way to the Solent for the start. Somehow the videos never do justice to the reality. The number of boats and the chaos in the wave action, as well as the wind and current, made for a tricky start and trickier exit from the Solent, the infamous channel separating the Isle of Wight from England's south coast.
Paul and Steve Erickson did an outstanding job of finding the best end of the line. Paul's timing was impeccable, and combined with perfect crew work we nailed the start. I told Paul that because of the anticipated currents and winds, the first boats out would have an advantage and the rich would get richer. I didn't know then he would take me so seriously.
The Race Is On
Once clear of the Solent and out into the English Channel, we settled into what would be our life at sea for the next month. I continued cramming for the final exam and putting the navigation station together while routing and analyzing the next step. Paul was a big help. Besides taking over gathering of the polar data, he helped collect weather information while I was resting.
If Paul didn't have a reputation as an experienced ocean racer, you wouldn't have known it aboard EF Language. His balance of pushing the boat and crew versus conserving resources and keeping things in one piece to the finish were right on the mark. If he had a fault, it was in pushing himself too hard and not getting enough rest. But a true leader leads by example, and one of our strengths was trying to keep up with Paul.
The boat clearly was well prepared, and the investment in sail development paid off as we raced for the lead. Our strategy and tactics were solid and we stuck to a plan. We were aggressive, yet patient, and once an opportunity to advance on our competition came our way we were quick to respond.
The attitude on board was always positive and we knew we could win. When the final opportunity near Ilha Trindade unfolded, we pounced on it and invested wisely while continuing to push the boat hard. The results -- advancing from third to first place and winning Leg 1 by a margin of 20 hours -- speak for themselves.
Yet, we realize that we must continue working harder than ever and keep what luck we have on our side. While this first leg was the equivalent of two to three standard ocean races, we have eight difficult legs to go. We have to focus on staying at the front of the pack to build on our 15-point lead.