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Swedes Rule Whitbread Waves, but British Set 24-Hour Mark

November 25, 1997|RICH ROBERTS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After surviving 50-knot winds and icy seas, Scandinavia, not Britannia, rules the waves after two legs of the Whitbread Round The World sailing race, but the British got an oar in on the wild charge through the Southern Ocean.

While skipper Gunnar Krantz was sailing Swedish Match to a runaway, 192-mile victory from Cape Town, South Africa, to Fremantle, Australia, England's fourth-place Silk Cut, commanded by race veteran Lawrie Smith, logged 449.26 nautical miles in a 24-hour span--an average of 18.7 knots (21.5 mph) and a world record for monohulls.

Another Swedish boat, EF Language, with San Francisco's Paul Cayard and a mostly American crew, won the first leg, from England to Cape Town, but between breakdowns and frostbite, was running fifth on this shorter but more demanding 4,600-mile second leg.

Swedish Match, which finished eighth on Leg 1, sailed the second leg in 15 days 3 hours 45 minutes, followed 18 hours later by Norway's Innovation Kvaerner, which became the race's overall leader by virtue of its third place on the first leg.

Another 7 1/2 hours behind was Toshiba, the effort organized by Dennis Conner and now skippered by Australia's Paul Standbridge, who replaced Chris Dickson at Cape Town. Toshiba stands sixth overall, a notch ahead of the other remaining American entry, Chessie Racing of Baltimore.

Neil Barth of Newport Beach withdrew America's Challenge after the first leg because of money problems.

Silk Cut and the other boats will be finishing through the week.

Swedish Match jumped out to an early, insurmountable lead when Krantz, following the advice of Cape Town seamen, ducked south into more favorable conditions as the others hugged the Cape of Good Hope.

For Cayard, a Whitbread rookie, the leg was a revelation in ocean sailing.

"This is the real Whitbread, the ultimate seaborne expedition," he said. "Everything is wet because our [drying room] heater broke the first day. It is bitter cold. The pain I experienced one night defrosting my numb fingers was second to none. Kimo [Worthington] got some minor frostbite."

Once, EF Language crewman Curt Oetking was caught atop the 85-foot mast when a gust struck and the boat lurched into a wild "spinout."

"I thought he was going to die," Cayard said.

And when EF Education, EFL's all-women sister boat, dived into a steep wave and its spare sails washed overboard, crew members retrieved them by hanging over the side with others holding their ankles. On the other hand, Cayard said, "I have never seen so many birds in my life, land or sea. There are albatross and many other species, but literally thousands of them."

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