LA ROCHELLE, FRANCE
MAY 17, 1998
ight months ago, British bookies were giving 20-to-1 odds on rookie skipper Paul Cayard winning the grueling Whitbread Round the World Race, the 32,000-nautical-mile ocean marathon that takes the competitors through some of the most difficult conditions and trying circumstances Mother Nature can toss up.
The victorious crew waves from aboard EF Language in La Rochelle.
Cayard was hoping to win that's the point of competing but being realistic, he believed a third or fourth place was more likely, given the experience of this competitors.
And his veteran competitors? Well, when they sailed from Southampton, England, on Sept. 21, they figured to give Cayard a sailing lesson he'd never forget.
Victory Is Ours
Today, those doubting odds makers are having to ante up, Cayard is jubilant, and his competitors are chagrined. With one leg reaming in the nine-leg race around the planet, Cayard and his dauntless EF Language crew clinched the victory in their first Whitbread outing.
By beating Swedish Match in the 3,390-n.m. Leg 8 Annapolis, Maryland, to La Rochelle, France EF Language increased its overall score to 744 points. With a maximum of a 105 points awarded to the winner of the final leg, no competitor can overtake Cayard & Co., who have an insurmountable 115-point lead over Swedish Match. This inspite of their sixth-place finish their worst of the race in this leg.
"I really feel good about winning the Whitbread. Magnus (Olsson) deserves
to win," Cayard said. "I know I am lucky to win this first time out. I have a great crew and a great boat.
"We have to complete the last leg according to the rules and we will try to
finish the Whitbread as we started first in, first out," he added.
The battle in the sprint to the finish at Southhampton will be for the remaining two positions on the podium. Swedish Match (629 pts.) has a comfortable, but not unassailable, 36-point lead over third-place Merit Cup (593 pts.). Hot on both boats' heels are Chessie Racing (583 pts.) AmericaOne tactician John Kostecki, skipper just 10 points back, followed by Silk Cut (560 pts.) and Innovation Kvaerner (552 pts.).
Just 41 points separate the third- through sixth-place boats. Toshiba (478 pts. and winner of Leg 8), BrunelSunergy (353 pts. and winner of Leg 7), and EF Education (178 pts. and fourth in Leg 8), will be out to save face and could play the role of spoiler. (See the Leg 8 Scoreboard.)
It Wasn't Easy
Winning was not as easy as it may appear. Although Cayard shocked many competitors and veteran race followers alike by handily winning Leg 1 (Southampton to Cape Town, South Africa), the long Leg 2 (Cape Town to Fremantle, Australia), which dipped far into the southern Indian Ocean, was a wake-up call. Cayard felt fortunate to finish fifth. There were moments when he wondered if they would finish at all. A mid-ocean broach left the boat broken and the crew shaken.
The lesson was not forgotten. Cayard and EF Language came back to win Leg 3 (Fremantle to Sydney, Australia) and retake the overall lead, which was never relinquished. A fourth-place finish in Leg 4 (Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand) was sufficient to retain the lead.
The Message Was Clear
But it was in Leg 5 (Auckland to São Sebastião, Brazil), the demanding 6,670-n.m. route deep into the iceberg-laden Southern Ocean and around the notorious Cape Horn, where the EF Language crew put its Leg 2 lessons to the test and proved their mettle, both physically and psychologically. And their critics, attributing the earlier success to beginner's luck, were silenced, begrudging acknowledging that Cayard and his largely American crew were now the team to beat.
In hindsight, however, it was already too late to begin taking the crew aboard EF Language seriously. With a second-place finish in Leg 6 (São Sebastião to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida) and a third-place finish in Leg 7 (Ft. Lauderdale to Baltimore, Maryland), Cayard set the stage for wrapping things up on Leg 8. The key was beating second-place Swedish Match to La Rochelle.
What transpired was a 3,390-n.m. match race between EF Language and Swedish Match across the North Atlantic Ocean. A master match-racer, Cayard prevailed, the sixth-place finish sufficient to add the Whitbread Trophy to his already crowded list of sailing achievements.
A Lot of Help From His Friends
Still, Cayard would be the first to say he didn't do it alone. Navigator Mark Rudiger consistently plotted the fastest routes across the Seven Seas and Steve Erickson, Magnus Olsson, Kimo Worthingon, Josh Belsky, Curtis Blewett, Marco Constant, Paul Murray, Klas Nylof, Mark Christensen, Justin Clougher, Curt Oetking and Rick Tomlinson made it happen.
Mark Rudiger, the winning navigator.
The final 450-n.m. leg, La Rochelle to Southampton begins on Friday, May 22, and the nine-boat fleet is expected to finish on May 24. It will be a victory for Cayard, after which he can turn his full attention to his AmericaOne Challenge for the America's Cup, the one trophy that has eluded him thus far.
Kostecki Leads Chessie
Cayard's AmericaOne teammate, tactician John Kostecki, took over as skipper of Chessie Racing and did an end run around the fleet to grab third place in Leg 8. That moved the Baltimore-based boat into fourth place overall and within striking distance a third-place podium finish.
"We are really happy to be in third. We accomplished our goal which was to
be in the top three," Kostecki said. "We had a good time and we always maintained our composure and kept fighting. We always knew there were opportunities to catch up.
"There were some great sailors behind us and we are happy to beat those guys," he added. "It is great going into Leg Nine and to still be in the hunt."
Read about the Leg 8 race action in the compelling daily reports from Paul Cayard and his EF Language crew.
Read the full transcript of the EF Language post-race press conference.
View the Leg 8 finish photos.
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