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Whitbread Race: Leg 8
Baltimore to La Rochelle
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Cayard Contra Mundum

By Bob Fisher

May 3, 1998

EF Language
Overall race leader EF Language
Paul Cayard started the penultimate leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race knowing that he had only to stay in contention with Gunnar Krantz's Swedish Match to have a very good chance of being in a winning position when the fleet leaves La Rochelle bound for Southampton on the last leg of this ocean marathon.

"It has been a long, hard race, but now is no time to let up," he said. In the light airs — between 6-7 knots of southerly breeze — Cayard stayed with his close rival in the marked-off exclusion zone and promptly paid the penalty.

He was wrong footed and, as a result, was last away when the gun fired from the Coast Guard Cutter Northlands. But there were some 110 miles of Chesapeake Bay facing Cayard's EF Language before the crew faced the open ocean — time enough for the necessary improvement, although Krantz was making it more difficult all the time by leading after the first two hours.

At the same time, Cayard was battling out seventh place with his Team EF sistership, EF Education, as the breeze had begun to increase to 7-9 knots.

"For us on EFL, our goal for this leg is clear; beat Swedish Match or finish within one place of her and the Whitbread Race is ours," said Cayard, "So, our basic strategy will be to stay close to her and try to beat her going in the same general area. It is somewhat unexciting to start a race knowing that your tactics are governed by someone else, but that is probably a small price to pay for reducing the risk of them getting four boats between us at the finish in La Rochelle. It is boring but the professional thing to do." Cayard knew exactly what was necessary over the next 3,390 miles.

Annapolis had turned out in force, after what has been one of the most successful stopovers in the race history. Coast Guard estimates are that there were in excess of 6,000 spectator craft out to see the fleet away. Unlike São Sebastião, they were impeccably behaved and the competitors were completely undisturbed in the swept channel. The competitors would find more freedom once they were further on their way, but the thought of Chesapeake Bay at night, with the myriad crab pots, none of which are lit, was hanging heavily on all the crews' minds.

Once they have left the Chesapeake, the leg takes on fresh challenges, for which Cayard and navigator Mark Rudiger have spent considerable time in preparation. The "moving walkway" of the Gulf Stream runs offshore, but those who head for the "Stream" straight away will not show up as well as those who put more northing into their course. It will take some time for the truth to be known, probably not until the race is four days old.

There are added complications at this particular time. While the more northerly route, which is the Great Circle Course, is shorter, there is an exclusion zone (to avoid icebergs brought down by the Labrador Current), beginning at 46°N,45°W, where boats are not allowed north of that latitude until 60°W. That zone cuts into the Great Circle Course and further, the Azores High has moved very much more to the north than is usual. Boats will be forced to sail just below the latitude of 46N to avoid the worst effects of the High, its associated calms.

It will almost certainly not be a fast leg, but Rudiger knows of the build up of a row of depressions heading eastward, which will fuel strong southwesterly winds. The second half of the leg, after the cold in the north, may be a welcome relief, and it is there that Cayard and his crew will have to fight off the challenges of all the boats to stay within four places of Swedish Match.

The race is anything but over. The real fascination has been saved for the final legs.


Bob Fisher is a renowned nautical scribe living in Lymington, England.

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