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Americans in Cruise Control


The Americans want to kick some more sail, George Collins wants a piece of Dennis Conner, and the rest of the Whitbread Round The World Race fleet just wants it to be over.

It will be soon enough, after the nine Whitbread 60s sail the last three of nine legs, starting today from Ft. Lauderdale 870 nautical miles to Baltimore, then back across the Atlantic to where the eight-month marathon started last September.

The face of the race has changed since then. While the last two Whitbreads were dominated by New Zealand boats and sailors, Swedish boats and American sailors have taken the lead in this one.

Paul Cayard's EF Language, sponsored by a Swedish language-teaching company, has five other Americans among the 12-man crew and is running away with the race. Even if Gunnar Krantz's Swedish Match, currently in second place, were to win the remaining legs, EF Language would have to average only fourth place for the overall victory.

Collins, the 57-year-old Baltimore-based backer and sometime skipper of fourth-place Chessie, dreams of leading the fleet up tricky Chesapeake Bay into Baltimore four or five days hence but would probably settle for beating Conner's entry, Toshiba, currently a dismal seventh.

Conner, 55, will be aboard Toshiba for only the second time in the race, replacing skipper Paul Standbridge of England for this leg.

Cayard's hard-driving crew is stoked, despite the huge lead on the last leg from Brazil. It seemed headed for its fourth win in six legs when Britain's struggling Silk Cut slipped past and beat them into Ft. Lauderdale by 78 minutes.

"Coming in second gives me a bad taste in my mouth," Cayard said.

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