Whitbread teams rounding into shape

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The final deadline for entering the Whitbread Round the World Race is June 1, and while race officials are still hopeful of adding two or three late entries, it appears the strength of the field will be the teams with new boats already in the water.

Whitbread race chief executive officer Ian Bailey-Willmot said recently, "Each time it seems, there is a flurry of activity about this time in the calendar as syndicates scurry to buy the older racers and throw together a campaign."

But, Bailey-Willmot said, putting together a sailing team to race around the world in 3 1/2 months is an almost impossible task "if one expects to be competitive."

The race begins Sept. 21 in Southampton, England.

"If the endeavor is simply to get around the world in the Whitbread, to say you have done it, then it is possible," Bailey-Willmot said. "But to catch up to the levels of the teams that have been preparing and training since the end of the last race in 1993-1994 would be hard at best."

Sail numbers for the 1997-1998 Whitbread have been issued to 10 racing yachts, including three United States teams -- Chessie Racing (USA 60), Toshiba (USA 1) and America's Challenge (USA 11).

Other established entries include three Swedish boats from two teams, plus one each from Norway, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Monaco.

Paul Cayard, here last week to promote the two-boat EF Education syndicate, said Toshiba, under the leadership of America's Cup and Whitbread veterans Dennis Conner and Chris Dickson, should be the early favorite in the race because of their fund-raising capabilities, crew and experience.

Conner is well-known in the United States and abroad for losing the America's Cup to Australia in Rhode Island in 1983, regaining it in Australia in 1987 and losing it again in San Diego in the last cup competition.

Dickson has sailed in the America's Cup for New Zealand and had an almost insurmountable lead in the last Whitbread with Tokio before being dismasted off Brazil.

But, said Cayard, who has extensive inshore and offshore racing experience in world class events including Italy's America's Cup challenger Il Moro de Venezia, once the race begins the playing field begins to level.

"Like anybody who has respect for the sea, you have to have some concern for what goes on out there," said Cayard, who will be racing his first Whitbread. "It is going to be wet, hard and miserable. But if everyone else can make it, I can, too."

In a race like the Whitbread, which runs south from England, east around Africa and below Australia to New Zealand before rounding South America and running back to England, knowing where and when to sail is the greatest challenge.

"It is the tactical and meteorological challenges in this race that stand out," Cayard said. "I can sail the boat, but so can 11 other guys on board, so the role of skipper is somewhat different than going around the buoys. This is an endurance race, and I am not going to steer the boat all around the world."

Aboard his EF Education boat, Cayard said, "Two guys will be dedicated to knowing the boat and choosing the route" that will ensure it can be sailed at its optimum speed.

The Whitbread 60s all will have satellite communications and weather stations on board, and reading weather map transmissions will be vital, Cayard said, in determining which side of the course to be on and when to take a chance by breaking away from the fleet in the hope of more favorable sailing conditions.

"But you also have the added complexity of having to sustain yourself out there for 30 days at a time," Cayard said. "It is going to be a very demanding race from a psychological standpoint. That whole aspect of managing the team for the whole four weeks [on the longer legs] is the toughest job."

Pub Date: 5/25/97

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