For two weeks, Norway's Innovation Kvaerner led the Whitbread Round the World Race for the Volvo Trophy, riding the skills of skipper Knut Frostad and the weather wizardry of navigator Marcel van Triest.
First to the Cape Verde Islands. First to and through the Doldrums. First across the Equator, and first to round De Fernando de Noronha, off the coast of Brazil.
But as the leaders in the fleet neared de Noronha, Merit Cup (Monaco) and EF Language (Sweden) closed the gap. Then, at the second turning mark at the island of Trinidade during the weekend, Merit Cup and EF Language passed Frostad and company.
"Although disappointed at giving away the lead at this stage," Frostad said, "the crew is more determined than ever to gain it back in the next week." Innovation Kvaerner was about 53 miles behind leader EF Education at 8 o'clock (EDT) last night.
Skippers and navigators on the three lead boats agree the next )) five days will determine which is first into Cape Town, more than 2,000 miles away.
Grant Dalton, skipper on Merit Cup and a veteran of four Whitbread races, said that while a great circle route to Cape Town is the shortest, weather will determine which course is fastest.
Frostad, at 30 the youngest skipper in the race, and van Triest, acknowledged as the most experienced navigator, welcome the challenge of finding the fastest route.
Frostad said sailing from de Noronha to Trinidade "was not very exciting for us, being in the lead and sailing into less breeze without many options except pointing at the next island. Now there are new opportunities, and we are going for them."
Problem solving and challenges are the essence of the Whitbread, and Frostad (Norway) and van Triest (The Netherlands) appear to be an excellent mix of youth and experience. Frostad sailed his first Whitbread four years ago as crew on Intrum Justitia, which set speed records in the howling gales of the Southern Ocean, but could not make up time it lost crawling through the Doldrums on the first leg and finished second overall. Van Triest was the navigator aboard Intrum Justitia. This time, Frostad and van Triest are with a well-funded team that ran a two-boat training campaign.
"As skipper, my mission is to make the boat go as fast as possible at all times," said Frostad, who says he needs only four to five hours of sleep in 24. "I need to keep the team's spirits and motivation up, even in situations where external conditions are not at all motivating or pleasant."
Van Triest looks into the future, reading weather reports and satellite imagery and makes his best guess on where the crew should sail. Early in the race, van Triest made the call to break from the fleet and sail a more westerly course. The move led Innovation Kvaerner to the lead it held for 14 days.
Pub Date: 10/15/97