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Cayard Beats Others to Punch, Wins Start and Early Lead

Bob Fisher Reports

COWES, ISLE OF WIGHT, England (Sept. 21, 1997) — The start of the Whitbread Round the World Race from the Royal Yacht Squadron line was more reminiscent of a race in Cowes Week, for the deliberate attack by all ten skippers, except for the vast armada of spectator craft of all shapes and sizes surrounding them. As the gun boomed out across the Solent, the ten boats were in line abreast and only feet from being over the line early.

Already the spectator boats had cut the green water with broad swathes of white and the 20-knot southeasterly breeze was strong enough not only to whip up a few white caps, but also to send the boats charging westwards towards Yarmouth and Hurst Narrows at a goodly clip.

With masthead asymmetric spinnakers set, they were topping 15-16 knots at times and were out past Hurst Castle, 14 miles down the track, in just under an hour with a little help from the ebb tide.

It was not surprising that at the Island end of the line were two of the world's best short course racing skippers, Paul Cayard in EF Language and Chris Dickson with Toshiba.

Cayard just beat Dickson to the punch and led away, the most windward of all the boats. A smile broke out on Cayard's face for the first time in a week — the pressures of replacing an absconding navigator at the eleventh hour had turned the American skipper unusually taciturn.

The 300-square-metre yellow spinnaker of EF Language was filling as she crossed the line and a similarly sized white one was up and drawing immediately on Toshiba. Had this happened aboard Lawrie Smith's Silk Cut, attempting a leeward end start, he might have smiled as well, but as Gordon Maguire drove the boat unerringly towards the line, a foul-up aloft prevented the huge sail from breaking out of its 'sock.' The zipped nylon tube failed to open and one boat after another rolled over Silk Cut to windward.

Smith was seen on the foredeck, helping to sort out the problem, but by the time the shark's head logoed sail was drawing, Silk Cut was last of the ten boats. His was but a minor problem compared with that of Knut Frostad with Innovation Kvaerner.

Frostad had to take drastic avoiding action for a spectator boat and the head of the spinnaker blew out. Before a new one could be hoisted, Kvaerner was back of the pack. Dickson had slightly better luck as Toshiba was undamaged after a brush with a press launch.

Cayard stretched his lead to 400 yards as he went through the Narrows with Grant Dalton, winner of the Maxi class last time, in second place after starting alongside Silk Cut. Toshiba was third, but by the time three hours had passed and the fleet was off St. Alban's Head, Dickson had taken Toshiba into the lead.

They were all still well bunched and hardly a length separated Dickson and Cayard with Dalton close behind. Smith, by then, had shaken off the attentions of the back markers and had Silk Cut in fourth place as they began to point towards Ushant on this 7,350 mile leg to Cape Town.

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