Southampton - Cape Town - Fremantle - Sydney - Auckland - São Sebastião - Fort Lauderdale - Baltimore - La Rochelle - Southampton
Winner: EF Language
More than half the skippers who entered the 1997-98 race had never previously competed in the Whitbread which may sound like a throwback to the early Corinthian days, but was in fact a reflection of how badly the top professionals of the day wanted the title on their CV.
Among them was a Californian called Paul Cayard, who was famous in America’s Cup circles, but unproven offshore. So no-one rated him very seriously as skipper of EF Language but he was to have a profound influence on the evolution of race, raising professional standards to levels previously unseen.
There were a number of changes to the event, which all 10 syndicates were able to use as a platform to secure contracts, sponsorship funds and media coverage. These included a change of name. The Whitbread Round the World Race became the Whitbread Round the World Race for the Volvo Trophy after the Swedish automotive giant provided additional support.
There was also a change to the scoring method, with elapsed time replaced by points acquired at each finish based on position. Meanwhile, the number of stopover ports increased from seven to nine to increase both public awareness of the event and the media coverage, which like most events was key to its success. The additions of São Sebastião, Brazil; Baltimore/Annapolis in the United States; and La Rochelle, France provided the race with new markets.
There was another dramatic development which enabled round-the-clock tracking by race followers. Positions, news items, emails from the boats and stacks of background information were all posted on a website, guaranteeing a massive new audience who could live the race as it happened for the first time.
Lawrie Smith was back with a well-funded campaign backed by Silk Cut after initially skippering EF Language ahead of the start. Smith would be up against some other old foes including the hugely competitive Kiwi duo, Chris Dickson on Toshiba and Grant Dalton on Merit Cup.
Gunnar Krantz, skipper of Swedish Match, and Knut Frostad, skipper of Innovation Kvaerner, had both been with Smith on Intrum Justitia in the previous race while the other five skippers had no experience of the race, including Christine Guillou, the French skipper of EF Education, the all-woman sister ship to Cayard’s EF Language.
Southampton to Cape Town
Despite the lively start and some amazing speeds in the first few hours, the weather gods decided to take a snooze for most of the month, stirring just occasionally to deliver a violent squall or fluky gust.
A leg that was supposed to take 30 days ended up, in some cases, taking a lot longer, leaving many crews short on rations. Anxious to save weight and maximise speed potential, the skippers had allowed only bare essentials onboard, but this fixation was starting to look a little misguided as the pounds started to drop off the sailors. Cayard later reported that some members of his crew lost up to 10 per cent of their body weight.
Halfway down, fresh winds having filled in after the Doldrums, it was Frostad’s Innovation Kvaerner who was up front with EF Language second and closing, and Dalton’s Merit Cup third, but it wasn’t long before Cayard took off.
The business of keeping a constant 15 knots on the speedometer had the articulate Cayard firing off an email describing the experience as "a cross between really scary and really fun”. It marked the start of a new era in communication as the gifted EF Language skipper recorded every emotion throughout 32,000 miles of racing. The rawness of his expression struck a chord among growing legions of armchair followers.
By day 28, Cayard had taken the lead and extended the advantage over Merit Cup to 113 miles. The other skippers were fast realising what an opponent Cayard was shaping up to be.
"No-one has slept for 24 hours," Dalton reported. "We've been on deck for all that time. At least it has temporarily stopped them moaning about food! But Cayard is sailing well and he will be difficult to catch."
For Smith, it must have been hard to watch the success of the boat he left. It had initially been reported that he quit EF Language when interest came in from Silk Cut, presenting him with the chance as an English skipper to front an English campaign. Eight years later, Magnus Olsson, a co-ordinator of the EF campaign and one of the team’s sailors, revealed a few secrets about that switch. “We sold him for a lot of money,” he said. “I think this was the first time anyone has ever sold a sailor as we did – just like you sell a football player. We had a contract and Silk Cut wanted him and he was keen to go. Because we didn’t announce that we’d sold him, people just assumed he quit.”
When it came to finding a replacement, Olsson and his colleagues were bowled over by Cayard’s personality. “Paul said two very important things to us: he hated to lose and then he said to me, ‘Magnus, remember one thing: I never get beaten by Laurie Smith’. That really made us laugh.”
Cayard proved impossible to catch in that opening leg and EF Language crossed the finish line in Cape Town first, some 20 hours ahead of Merit Cup with Innovation Kvaerner coming in third two hours later.
Cape Town to Fremantle
The shock of Cayard’s first leg win was soon overtaken by the announcements that rocked the race fraternity during the Cape Town stopover. Toshiba dropped the first bombshell, revealing that co-skipper Chris Dickson had resigned. The rumours concerning his relations with the crew and syndicate head Dennis Conner were rife, but Dickson claimed the decision was "a personal one”. Paul Standbridge, a respected member of the crew, was appointed skipper for the next leg, but there was uncertainty as to whether this was a permanent appointment.
Then it was announced that America’s Challenge was withdrawing due to a lack of funds, leaving skipper Ross Field, the two-time winner, without a ride.
As usual, most skippers hugged the shore on the way out of Cape Town, except Swedish Match’s Gunnar Krantz, who stunned everyone when he veered off sharply and headed west. It was only later that the decision was explained, but it was to be one of the all-time great tactical coups. Co-skipper Erle Williams had spotted a freighter far offshore and could see smoke curving steeply away from the stack. He consulted with Krantz, who immediately swung the nose round and headed in the same direction. They found the wind and made big advances on the fleet, which was crawling along at less than one knot, and by the fifth day the lead had been extended to a whapping 205 miles over second-placed Innovation Kvaerner.
As soon as they hit the Roaring Forties, the picture changed dramatically and both front-runners took off. “Yes, we are in the Roaring Forties," reported Knut Frostad, who would later become CEO of the event. "It is windy, wet, cold and wet, wet, wet, wet. And we love it."
Swedish Match reported a 24-hour run of 420.6 miles, just 14 miles shy of the monohull record set by Toshiba in July, and after a week they had a 300-mile lead. The lead was almost 200 miles when they crossed the Fremantle finish line, having achieved the highest average speed sailed on any leg in the race's 25-year history at 13 knots.
The boats had taken a battering in the Southern Ocean, but there were no casualties, except for the pride of Cayard, who came in fifth and was repeatedly told by members of his campaign not to push boat and crew so hard. Life was harder on Hans Bouscholte on Dutch entry BrunelSunergy, which for the second time in two legs came last. The skipper was replaced by Roy Heiner. Chessie Racing co-skipper Mark Fischer stood down and was replaced by George Collins, an amateur yachtsman who had pretty much funded the campaign, while on Silk Cut, Smith said there would be no changes despite their disappointing fourth place, and he found consolation in setting a new 24-hour world monohull speed record of 449.1 miles.
Fremantle to Sydney
The 2,250-mile sprint around the south coast of Australia proved a bit of a slog as the fleet was forced to tack upwind, something the boats were not designed to do with any finesse. On the second day, the crew on Innovation Kvaerner, the overall points’ leader in the race, called for assistance when they discovered a few structural problems in the lower part of the mast just above the step. It compromised their speed and safety so they headed towards the shore and dropped anchor, while a helicopter lowered a repair kit. A few hours later they were up and running again and back in the race with few time penalties. In fact, they were just nine miles astern of leader EF Language.
The headwinds continued, giving each crew a deeply unpleasant ride. EF Language fell back into sixth while Toshiba, with Paul Standbridge still in charge, moved into the lead. The discomfort was compounded on Silk Cut, who reported chronic watermaker problems, requiring immediate repair. While the engineers set to work, they relied on hand-operated watermakers. Two men had to pump for six hours to produce enough water to cook a single dehydrated meal.
Bizarrely, the same mast problems on Innovation Kvaerner appeared on Swedish Match, but Krantz was further offshore than the Norwegians so heading inshore to drop anchor and make repairs was not an option. They continued with a conservative sail plan, knowing the mast could come down at any time. To lessen the risk, Krantz went south to find favourable winds and, remarkably, a few miles out from Sydney, Swedish Match went into the lead.
Cayard responded by putting up every available sail. His sheer doggedness and uncanny skill in eking out speed powered him to the front, but only just.
The fleet was bunched up as it entered Sydney Harbour in darkness and while the battle between Cayard and Krantz proved compelling, the award for performance in the face of adversity went to the crew of Innovation Kvaerner, who were lying in fifth place despite a near disaster onboard when bowman, Alby Pratt, was tossed overboard during an early morning sail change. Frostad put in a U-turn in a bid to retrieve him, which he did when a crewman caught sight of his strobe light.
Six of the competitors arrived within 11 minutes, Cayard putting five minutes and eight seconds between him and second-placed Krantz after 2,250 miles of racing. Less than a minute later, Chessie Racing also crossed the line and Dalton’s Merit Cup was 16 seconds behind. Cayard summed it up: "It was the tightest ocean race I have ever been in. Everything balanced out perfectly and we had one hell of a boat race."
Sydney to Auckland
It may have been Christmas, but there was little time to relax as crews got their boats shipshape for the sprint to Auckland. The mast problems on Innovation Kvaerner and Swedish Match proved preoccupying and although they were made safe for the Tasman crossing, Krantz made plans to have a new mast flown to Auckland as he didn’t wish to round Cape Horn on the fifth leg with vulnerable equipment.
Toshiba syndicate chairman Dennis Conner showed up in Sydney to take over from Standbridge, a move to see for himself why Toshiba were lagging behind. His eagerness got the better of him on race day and he crossed the start line three seconds before the gun. This error could have proved costly, but after 24 hours Conner was among the top three, his sights fixed on a podium place. When he joined Krantz in the route south - Cayard opted to go north - their advantage over the rest of the fleet grew, though as they approached Cape Reinga it was Swedish Match who held a six-mile lead. Cayard was second to last, ruing his tactical error.
Krantz thought he had it in the bag, but within hours of rounding the Cape, Swedish Match slipped into a windless hole and stopped dead. It was one of their worst moments in the race, said co-skipper Erle Williams. "It's a yachtsman's worst nightmare…when you are leading, to fall into a hole and to know that the others are coming at you."
By the time they moved off, Merit Cup, crewed largely by Kiwis, had stolen a march, driven on by the reception they knew awaited them. Dalton pulled into the lead, but Conner, who was right on his stern, threatened to cause a major upset at the last minute. The two of them scrapped for honours in front of a crowd of thousands, most of them Kiwis desperate to see Conner put in his place.
The last couple of miles were sailed in 45 knots of wind to make the closing moments some of the most breathtaking of any seen in the event. Dalton ripped through the convoy of spectator boats at breakneck speed and charged across the line first and Conner heaved over two minutes later. Dalton was overcome with emotion. "I was telling my crew on the way in of the two greatest days in life," he said. "The first was four years ago when we beat Tokio into here, and the second was today."
Cayard came fourth, but earned enough points to retain the overall lead. Furthermore, his crew reported a human side to their fiercely driven leader. On Silk Cut, tales of crew conflict were rampant and Smith did his best to quash the rumours by declaring on his arrival in sixth place that there would be no crew changes. He then replaced Steve Hayles, the navigator, and watch captain Neil Graham with Vincent Geake and Gerard Mitchell. Conner, meanwhile, put Standbridge back in charge of Toshiba.
Auckland to São Sebastião
It was back into the Southern Ocean and everyone was prepared for a battering though it came sooner than anticipated. The all-women crew on EF Education, who had had their fair share of bad luck already, had to take emergency action to avoid a catastrophic dismasting, while leader EF Language passed a huge iceberg just off their lee side. The ice was scary enough in itself, but combined with the turbulent seas, many of the crew were left rooted to the spot. Mark Rudiger was stuck in his navigation station, fearful that if he ventured three metres forward to fetch a cup of coffee, the weight in the boat might be displaced and the bow would nose dive catastrophically into the approaching waves.
Smith’s Silk Cut, in dire need of a good result, then fell foul of more misfortune. While running in 30 knots, the crew heard a loud bang and a section of mast above the second set of spreaders fell. They erected a jury-rig and decided to head for Ushuaia. The mast on EF Education followed suit a couple of days later having been unable to withstand the loads imposed by 35 knots of wind. Both would ultimately retire from the leg.
Meanwhile, Cayard was having a fabulous time, enjoying the best of the conditions to grab a 350-mile lead. When the breezes were favourable, he was right in the middle of them. By the time they died, he had long since moved on and the mood on Swedish Match, Toshiba, Innovation Kvaerner and Merit Cup grew increasingly tetchy as navigators tried to find a way of getting their speeds above four knots.
Roy Heiner on BrunelSunergy found a solution. While the gang of four headed west round the Falklands, navigator Stuart Quarrie suggested a detour, and they headed east. Leaving the islands to port was not the done thing since the winds and weather on the eastern side were notoriously hard to fathom, so it was a massive gamble. BrunelSunergy leap-frogged four boats and moved into second.
Dee Smith on Chessie Racing took the same tactic and moved into fourth, just behind Innovation Kvaerner, but none of them could catch EF Language, who by now was rampaging towards the finish some 500 miles ahead.
Cayard was grinning when he appeared in Sao Sebastiao and conceded his success was down to the lessons he learned during his first, bungled foray into the Southern Ocean. Rudiger agreed. "This time he listened to the guys who had been there before."
Shockingly, Toshiba were stripped of their points for fifth. They had been protested by the race committee, who discovered the engine had been used, but there was no record of it in the log. Standbridge claimed they had switched it on to get the boat into reverse so they could remove some kelp from the keel and rudder. As to why they didn’t follow the strict rules governing such an eventuality remained a mystery and Toshiba was duly disqualified.
São Sebastião to Fort Lauderdale
Sailing up the east coast of South America to Florida is a bigger nightmare for many racers than rounding Cape Horn, not because the waves are big and the weather horrendous, but because there are no waves and not a lot in the way of weather. This fifth leg, after an initial blast, proved no exception as temperatures soared, the seas grew still and the sails flapped indeterminately.
Down below, reported Knut Frostad, it was a stifling 50 degrees and bunks were soaked. "How nice it is to jump into a bunk that is already soaking wet from the sweat of the guy who slept there before you!"
Silk Cut’s Vincent Geake opted to stay near the shore – two miles from the beach at one point – and briefly they led, but soon after crossing the equator the spectre of EF Language loomed over the horizon with Innovation Kvaerner on cloud watch in third.
"Every hour is spent watching the clouds," wrote Frostad. "Will it rain? Where is it moving? How fast? Can we pass ahead or do we have to hike up behind? You just have to make sure you don't end up right in the middle! Some of the clouds are just too big, and you can't avoid them."
True to his word, Cayard overtook Smith on Silk Cut, but the margins were negligible and Smith knew there was everything to gain from keeping up the pressure. Sure enough, he forced an error as Cayard stayed too close inshore and had to rethink his sail plan when he was headbutted by the wind. Smith, meanwhile, was flying his big masthead kite and a tiny advantage turned into a 15-mile lead.
"Frustrating," Cayard hissed. "Watching a 20-mile lead turn into a 15-mile deficit is not fun."
By this point he had mellowed slightly in his approach. Olsson recalled an earlier incident involving his skipper. “Paul got really upset one day when he woke up and saw three pairs of sunglasses hanging on a string on the leeward bunk. For him, absolutely everything had to be on the windward side. He started growling at everyone, saying, ‘You have to be more professional’. We got him back. The next time he woke up he saw every pair of sunglasses on the leeward side. All we heard was a loud shout of ‘Aaaaaggghh!’. He got the message about his behaviour.”
Smith led the fleet into Fort Lauderdale one hour ahead of Cayard, while Krantz and Dalton cantered in behind. Everyone was pleased for Smith. He had sailed a brilliant leg and deserved his first victory of the race, especially after the mast traumas in the previous leg. Cayard had the overall lead and the pack felt he was uncatchable.
Fort Lauderdale to Baltimore
There were more changes on Toshiba as Conner once again displaced Standbridge for the 870-mile dash north to Baltimore.
Otherwise, the crews concentrated on what lay ahead though only one, George Collins on Chessie Racing, had any real idea of what Chesapeake Bay would throw at them since this was his back yard and he knew how crab pots and tides could slow progress.
In fact, this local knowledge offered little advantage. As the fleet approached Baltimore, Collins was back in seventh place, but he still commanded the lion’s share of attention since he was engaged in a supreme battle with his main American adversary, Conner, who, to everyone’s great shock, was bringing up the rear.
Taking the advice of his tactician Stuart Quarrie, BrunelSunergy skipper Roy Heiner headed east as soon as they left the sunshine state and they found more breeze and flat seas while the rest of the fleet was blasted by strong headwinds nearer the coast.
For a while, the decision looked like being a winning one as their lead extended to 40 miles, but as they approached Baltimore the others started to catch up and it was the other American, Cayard, who cranked up the pressure in closing the gap.
Heiner held him off for as long as possible and crossed the finish line with a 21-minute advantage over Swedish Match, who had beaten Cayard by 30 seconds.
As soon as the leaders were in, the TV crews headed back out on the water to watch the climax of the Collins versus Conner head-banger. They were neck and neck in seventh place, but despite the loudest cheers ringing out for Chessie Racing, it was Conner who squeezed over the line first. He made it by just 10 seconds.
He might not have tried so hard had he known that the next five hours would be spent in the protest room after EF Education skipper Christine Guillou claimed that Conner had sailed ‘recklessly’ on the first night out of Fort Lauderdale, resulting in a port-starboard incident that happened after dark. Conner countered, saying that as soon as he was made aware of Guillou's protest that night he had performed a 720-degree penalty turn in accordance with the rules, which in theory exonerated him. But the jury were not convinced since there was no way of knowing whether Toshiba had actually made the penalty turn so they upheld Guillou’s protest and Toshiba were relegated to last in the leg, having been penalised two places.
The gnashing of teeth did not stop there for Conner. A few hours later, he was stunned when his navigator Andrew Cape resigned. It came like a bolt out of the blue, but Cape was clearly disenchanted by the Toshiba experience. It had been “a very hard race and I have not especially enjoyed it”, was his only comment.
Annapolis to La Rochelle
The fleet made a short trip to Annapolis for the start of leg eight and as they did the calculators came out to see what was possible on the leaderboard.
By now, Cayard had a comfortable lead of more than 100 points over everyone else but it wasn’t enough to guarantee victory. If Swedish Match came into La Rochelle first, and EF Language broke down and was at the back of the fleet, Swedish Match could still wangle it. Krantz, meanwhile, was prepared to take a few calculated fliers. "We have a slim chance,” he said. “It's a game of putting the throttle all the way down, but not taking too many risks."
Collins gave up the ghost on Chessie Racing and handed over to another American, John Kostecki, who was to receive his first taste of round-the-world racing. The Kiwi Murray Ross stepped into Cape’s shoes on Toshiba and Standbridge was back as skipper.
It was Standbridge who made all the running out of Baltimore, but his early gains were eclipsed by the inevitable tussle that was set to characterise the leg, between Cayard and Krantz. EF Language made a poor start and fell some way behind, which had Cayard in a rage, making sure his crew worked around the clock to catch up. The gap was reduced to 1.3 miles before the tacticians started to execute their Atlantic plans.
Krantz headed north, followed by a reluctant Cayard, who wanted to go south but was terrified of letting Swedish Match out of his sights. Toshiba held the middle ground and promptly moved into second place and then, on day nine, went into the lead though only because a dead seal was caught on the keel strut of Dalton’s Merit Cup to slow her down. Before long, the seal was extricated and, despite a subsequent collision with a whale, she got back up to speed and overtook Toshiba.
As the fleet approached France, the leaderboard changed again, but this time it was Lawrie Smith on Silk Cut who was competing with Standbridge. For British race followers, this was irresistible. After almost 13 days at sea, Standbridge crossed the line in La Rochelle to claim Toshiba’s first leg victory of the race. Ten minutes later, Silk Cut finished, taking second place.
Behind them, Cayard stuck to his guns of shadowing Swedish Match and crossed the line in sixth, three hours in front of Krantz. It had not been pretty in its execution, but Cayard’s plan had finally landed him the 1997-98 Whitbread Round the World Race for the Volvo Trophy, with one leg still to race.
La Rochelle to Southampton
The last 450 miles came down to filling the two remaining positions on the podium and the contenders included Smith, whose second place into La Rochelle had moved him into fifth place overall with a chance, albeit a slim one, of finishing third.
There was little respect shown to boats or crew in this final thrust, no need to keep anything in reserve for future legs. "We are going to use every little piece of energy we can drag out of our bodies. There is just going to be nothing left in Southampton," warned Innovation Kvaerner skipper Knut Frostad.
After a few hours, less than one mile separated the four leading boats: Merit Cup, EF Language, Silk Cut and BrunelSunergy. With 60 miles left to the finish, and after a 25-mile detour imposed by the organisers to time the climax of the race so that it was watched by the biggest possible audience, it was Dalton and Cayard who were up front, maintaining their rivalry to the end, while behind them Smith and Frostad were vying for third place.
The last few miles were incredibly tense. With strong tides and light airs, none of which were favourable, the going was slow and Dalton’s lead was a miniscule one-tenth of a mile over EF Language. It was enough to claim a slender win.
Frostad claimed third, pipping Silk Cut and Smith by 10 minutes and allowing themselves to take fourth on the leaderboard. For Swedish Match, their final leg position of fifth, allied with Merit Cup’s win, dropped them from second to third. Chessie Racing, meanwhile, blew their shot at an overall podium position by finishing eighth.
After nine months of high tension the skippers carried their rivalries into the final press conference, but soon all ideas of lodging protests fell by the wayside and the congratulations were duly offered.
For Cayard, the moment was one to savour. "It's a special moment for sure," he said. "Going around the world on a sailboat, when your whole life has been sailing, is a big deal. And then to win the race was extra special, and I am sure it has not all sunk in yet. It takes a certain amount of luck to do what we did on EF Language."
But luck played only a small part. What earned Cayard his remarkable win was an attention to detail that most opponents found at best boring, at worse nauseating. It was a superbly professional effort and few could deny that he thoroughly deserved the title.