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Fear Lies Ahead, Sailing Around the Horn

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Paul Cayard and his first-place EF Language crew have survived the slings of their skeptics and the arrows of Dennis Conner, minor irritants compared to what they face now: the Southern Ocean.

The nine Whitbread 60s that leave Auckland, New Zealand, today have sailed four of the nine legs and about half of the Whitbread Round the World Race’s 31,600 nautical miles, but the fierce conditions ahead are expected to make the 6,670 miles around Cape Horn to Brazil the most difficult and dangerous.

“Anyone in their right mind is afraid of the next leg,” Cayard said.

Four sailors have been lost in Whitbread races--three in the first one in 1973-74 and another in 1989-90, all in the region bordering Antarctica.

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Three America’s Cup campaigns and success in the tough Star class have hardened Cayard, 38, to world-class competition, but that didn’t prepare him for the Whitbread. And when he finished only sixth in the prelude Fastnet race last summer, he was written off as a longshot behind Conner’s favored Toshiba and four others. He didn’t disagree.

“For sure, I did not expect to be in this position at this point,” Cayard said. "[But] EF Language is a very good boat, and the crew is gaining the experience it lacked.”

It’s one of only two crews still intact. Three, including Toshiba’s, have changed skippers, and several have changed navigators.

EF Language has won two of the four legs but leads Grant Dalton’s Kiwi-crewed Merit Cup, the Leg 4 winner, by only 39 points with 135 going to this leg’s winner. It would have been tighter if Conner’s protest against EF Language had gone through.

Toshiba claimed that EF Language turned off its navigation lights the night before arriving at Auckland to hide from its rivals, a charge Cayard denied. But it never got to a hearing because, the race jury ruled, Toshiba hadn’t managed to inform Cayard of its protest.

Conner left town soon after docking and has had no comment.


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