Sailing: `Battle of sexes' set for Whitbread race

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In what is being billed as a battle of the sexes, a Swedish company is sponsoring two identical yachts - one for men and one for women - to take part in the Whitbread Round The World Race.

"The females have a goal to beat the males... and we will see how it all ends up," said Fred Andersson, who is managing the venture for EF Education, an international education company. EF Education has a work force that is 65 per cent female and Andersson said on Thursday that it did not seem right to sponsor a yacht only for men.

Eleven yachts are entered in the Whitbread Round the World Race, which will start on September 21 from Cowes. The race will last approximately nine months over a 31,600-mile (50,560-kilometre) course.

Nine of the 11 entries are designed by the American Bruce Farr. Although EF Education would not say how much the Stockholm-based company is spending on its two Farr-designed yachts, the company has budgeted $18m (pounds 11m) for the project.

Andersson said a change in the scoring system could help the women. In previous Whitbreads, the winner was decided on the fastest time. This time the yachts will get points depending on their position for each leg of the race, making the race more of a tactical challenge.

The experienced America's Cup campaigner Paul Cayard, who led an Italian team to victory in 1992, is skipper of the men's EF entry. He said that the men's and women's crews have been practicing together in Portugal.

Cayard believes that proper handling of the sails will be crucial to victory, but the men and women have different concerns about the problem which their crews are likely to face.

The women worry that will not have enough strength to quickly haul in a sail in a strong 40-knot wind. If needed, more women will be called on deck to get the job done.

The men seem more concerned about psychological strength.

"The tough part is not how windy and stormy it will be," Cayard said. "It is going to be a very demanding race from a psychological standpoint."