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Fantastic Finish to Whitbread Third Leg for Cayard

Bob Fisher Reports

SYDNEY, Australia (Dec. 23, 1997) — Forget all the Whitbread legs there have been in the 24 years history of the race. leg 3 finish There has never been one to match the third leg, from Fremantle to Sydney, of the seventh race.

It was tight, dramatic, gripping and, quite simply, sensational. It will be talked about long after this race is over and had competitors and the world's spectators, from those on the water to the couch potatoes bent over the web-site, gripped in anticipation of what could possibly happen next, and the whole scenario was played out at a phenomenal pace with the boats often wide apart on a north-south axis, but very little in the difference of their distance to the finish.

leg 3 winners It was everything that everybody could have wished and if there had to be those who were disappointed, it was those who were beaten by others to the finish. And even then, on that early Tuesday morning in Sydney's Darling Harbour, they had smiles on their faces. 'I don't mind sixth place,' said Paul Standbridge, 'It's been one hell of a race.'

Paul Cayard, who won, was startling simple. 'That was a sailboat race,' he said, before even he was presented with the Volvo Trophy for winning the leg, his second success in the three legs.

'What drove me,' he added with a huge grin, 'was that for most of the day Gunnar Krantz had the keys to my wife's car!' Volvo provides the leg winner with a car for the stop-over as an additional prize. 'I think it was the best offshore ocean racing leg ever — certainly in the history of the Whitbread and possibly in any ocean race. After 2,000 miles it all boiled down to just a few minutes at the finishing line between first and second, It doesn't get any better than that. I've never seen a finish like it.'

Cayard's EF Language came out of the darkness and lit by the powerful floods of the television lights and phosphorus flares, to cross the finish line off the Opera House to cheering crowds ashore and a knowledgable spectator fleet, which had accompanied her down the harbour from the time she entered through the Heads. It was a sailboat race, as Cayard had said — one which had never been equalled for the closeness of the racing nor the finish.

Within 25 minutes of EF Language completing the 2,250 mile course in just under nine and a half days, six other boats had crossed the line, two of them less than a minute apart. Cayard and his crew had fought for the lead with Gunnar Krantz's Swedish Match for the last 48 hours, the lead swinging first one way and then the other. In the final day, 'We went for them inch by inch, foot by foot, get this side of them, get that side of them and book it,' said Cayard, 'and we booked it.'

It was an triumphal passage to the line for Cayard; the EF Language crew dropping her spinnaker as they turned in to the harbour and came hard on the wind to miss the Sow & Pigs Reef. From there to Bradley's Head, sheets were cracked and the speed climbed to more than 13 knots. A change of headsails to a bigger reaching sail, hardly a jib-top in the traditional sense, but one with a nearly 200 percent overlap, was made. EF Language cleaved through the chop and the wakes of the spectator vessels, and her crew high-fived in relief when they heard the finishing gun.

— Yachting journalist Bob Fisher
lives in Lymington, England

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