orry I did not wind things up coming into Auckland, but the last 24 hours were spent on the rail, and then there was the usual down time upon hitting the dock. Thirty-six hours after arrival, EF Language and EF Education were
back out on the ocean testing sails. Sails are a big part of what has got
us where we are and I want to keep pushing forward as we head into the
second half of the lap around the planet.
Leg 4 was both frustrating and finally fulfilling for EF Language. We won
our third start and led the fleet out Sydney Heads. We felt in control and
proceeded to execute our plan according to a pre-race strategy.
Unfortunately for us, the weather that our strategy was based on did not
pan out and we found ourselves in a hole with the boats to the south
passing and making large gains. Once we figured out what was going on, we
made a strong move to the south a very strong move and got ourselves in a lane that had some blue sky (no pun intended). This put us back into the
middle of the fleet approaching the northern Capes of New Zealand.
Swedish Match, leg leader and our closest rival overall, fell victim of a
hole five miles offshore. Each yacht that followed cut inshore a little
more until the order was reshuffled. Merit Cup led around North Cape,
followed by Chessie Racing, Toshiba, EF Language and finally Swedish Match.
The rest of the leg was a 180 mile fetch down the east coast of the north
island and the only position change was Toshiba getting past Chessie on the
change from gradient to sea breeze that last afternoon.
I feel good about EF Language here at this half-way stage. For sure, I did
not expect to be in this position at this point in my first Whitbread. The
odds were against it and common sense as well. What has born itself out is
that EF Language is a very good boat, we have a few sails that are much
better than those of the competition, and the crew is blending well and
gaining the experienced it lacked in Southampton. The 39-point lead we have
over Merit Cup is not substantial. There are plenty of points left on the
table for any of the top six to win this race.
The sails are one of the few things that are truly different boat to boat
and just about the only thing that can be developed during the race. At the
stopover in Sydney, we planned a two-day sail testing session for arrival
in Auckland. One of the advantages of the EF program is the fact that we
have two identical boats, which are excellent testing platforms.
three new sails for the session and checked the crossovers of existing
sails that we hadn't had the chance to verify fully. We headed out with
both boats on Sunday morning, and sailed all night and the next day. I was
happy with what we learned and our sail designer, Robert Hook, now has some
good information to build us some new sails for Brazil and the rest of the
Before leaving Auckland for sail testing, I found that Toshiba had lodged a
protest against us. Dennis Conner claimed that EF Language intentionally
turned off their navigation lights on the evening of January 8th. Apart
from the fact that this was not true, Toshiba failed to properly file the
protest. Further, they attempted to enlist Chessie and Merit Cup to witness
for them. Both declined. Further, George Collins, owner of Chessie, was on
hand to witness on behalf of EF Language. So after flying three members of
the jury half way around the planet, the issue was dismissed in 10 minutes.
The instigator of all this was Dennis Conner, our sports' leading public
figure, who did not even front for the hearing.
The Whitbread is quite refreshing in that it is generally protest free. I
think the public appreciates that. The Whitbread is about tough sailing on
the high seas where man is challenged as much by his competitors, as by
Mother Nature. It is an incredibly compelling story that has a great
future. The Whitbread is not an event now for frivolous bickering. I hope
it stays that way.
Cape Horn Is Next
Leg 5 will be the toughest leg of the Whitbread. Cold, windy, dark, scary
and, yes, dangerous. It will be a chance for me, and my mates on EF
Language, to show ourselves first, and the rest of the world, if we learned
anything from our Leg 2 experience.
What I took away from Leg 2 was, [that] there
is definitely a time in this type of racing when you have to throttle back.
You can't sail like you're on Christchurch Bay in the Admiral's Cup when it
is Day 15, it is snowing on deck, blowing 35 knots, and the waves are 6
Getting around the Horn also represents the end of a stage. We will be
leaving the Southern Ocean behind. To me, the Southern Ocean is the Round
the World Race. It is what sets any Round the World Race apart from all
other offshore races. It is where the danger lies, it is extreme.