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Small-Boat Experience Keeps AmericaOne Skipper in Lead at Halfway Point

Bob Fisher Reports

EF Language Paul Cayard in Auckland
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (Jan. 9, 1998) — Paul Cayard, the AmericaOne skipper, has a healthy points lead with his Whitbread 60, EF Language, at the mid-point of the 1997-98 Whitbread Round the World Race.

With a fourth place on the leg from Sydney to Auckland, Cayard and his crew have 372 points, and are 39 points clear of second-placed Swedish Match, skippered by Gunnar Krantz, and a further 20 clear of the leg winner, Grant Dalton's Merit Cup.

It was a difficult leg, as Cayard explained within an hour of finishing, "It was totally up and down and the forecasting studies we have done led us to believe that the north was going to be good for the first 60 hours and then south was going to be ultimately good . . . 24 hours after the start, you had to be south. So, we were in the wrong spot with our buddy, Verne [Innovation Kvaerner]."

Cayard said that it was small-boat racing tactics which led him to make the right decisions on how to return to be a front-runner again:

You learn, if you've made a mistake, if it's early days, to take the lumps and get the hell out of there, get in a lane where you can become a player again.

So, we headed hard southeast. On 100-degree true wind direction, with the mark bearing 60, we sailed for an hour on port tack. We would have been heading 70 degrees on starboard and we would have been ten degrees overstood. I sailed on for another hour [on port] because I had been tacking on little headers and falling back into the low. The low was moving ever so slowly north, so that every time we sailed on starboard, we caught up with it again, and were swallowed by it.

Finally, we figured that out, and I said, "From the time we can tack and I can sail at the mark, we'll sail another hour. For now, an hour is cheap — it's 12 miles. I'm going to make sure I'm out of this nightmare.

He said that it was hard on the rest of the crew when they did tack as they were well overstood for the mark [Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand]. Yet, Cayard demanded they stay hard on the wind, overstood by 25 degrees, for six to eight hours.

"When we were sure we were going to hold that lane and that pressure," he said, remembering the small-boat tactics and employing them on a bigger scale. "We put the pedal down and that's when we started chewing up 12 miles [on the leaders] every sked [every six hours]. It was satisfying to remember how to do that."

The strategy dug EF Language out from eighth place and kept her in the overall lead, which she would otherwise have lost. The small-boat racing experience of Cayard, which will prove invaluable in America's Cup terms, has been a telling factor in this ocean-racing marathon.

— Yachting journalist Bob Fisher
lives in Lymington, England

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