Sailing: Cayard speaks the right language

Andrew Preece studies the talents of a skipper whose feat signalled a sea change
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The Independent Online
WHEN Paul Cayard and the crew of EF Language lifted the Volvo Trophy as victors of theWhitbread Round the World Race, many realised that their achievement had changed racing forever. They came in at 16-1 outsiders from the start to win the first leg, the third and the fifth and by Fort Lauderdale, with three legs to go, their rivals were reduced to scrapping for second place.

Looking back it is easy to see how Cayard and Team EF got it all right and how the American skipper's pre-race confidence was valid in spite of the fact that EF Language finished fifth in the pre-Whitbread Fastnet Race and parted company with a key figure, the navigator Nick White, in the final weeks before the start.

"I knew myself that despite outward appearances we had everything under control," said Cayard. "We decided not to use our Code 0 [a sail which Team EF developed and which others copied as the race progressed] or any of our special sails in the Fastnet, and that was a tactical decision I made. If you believe in yourself it can be an advantage to have your opposition think you are weak."

But while Cayard was the dominant figure in an EF Language campaign in which he was surrounded by the core of his America's Cup crew, the man at the heart of the campaign, Magnus Olsson, had plenty to celebrate. This was Olsson's fourth Whitbread and at 49 he, more acutely than others, felt the sense of "now or never".

"Thank you for inviting me to skipper your boat," said Cayard to the delighted Olsson as EF Language crossed the finish line last week before the Californian let his guard down dockside and confessed that "this was the most outstanding single experience of my life".

As Lawrie Smith and the crew of Silk Cut collected their award for record mileage - 498.1 miles in 24 hours on Leg 2 - the British team were left to lament the loss of their mast on Leg 5 that took them out of contention and left them, like many, chasing the elite from a distance.

With a week to acclimatise to life in third place Gunnar Krantz and the crew of Swedish Match - the only team to refuse to give in to EF Language until the last - seemed happy with a podium finish in such a high-calibre fleet while Grant Dalton admitted that second was the best he and his team could ever have expected against the formidable might of the Swedish EF Team.

"When you win these things it matters who you beat," said Cayard in tribute to the standard of his opposition. "It was an honour to be part of the biggest sailboat race of all time."

But if many of the skippers and crews look forward to life under the banner of the Volvo Ocean Race Round the World, some feel it has moved away from them. "I've always looked at the Whitbread as an adventure and this race has gone past an adventure now," said Paul Standbridge who, like Grant Dalton, completed his fifth Whitbread last week. "It's now a very professional, almost one design, yacht race which perhaps I'm not good enough to win."

Standbridge, like others, has an eye on The Race, Bruno Peyron's Disneyland- supported non-stop no-rules race around the world. Big multihulls, way in excess of 100 feet, will be the order of the day come 31 December 2000, when The Race is due to start. And if The Race is unlikely to be close, as pioneers explore widely different avenues of design, it will certainly be fast.

Despite considerable interest from the likes of Grant Dalton, Lawrie Smith and others who have tired of the Whitbread, many questions surrounding The Race remain unanswered. A television deal has yet to be struck, or major race management funding secured. And backing for key players is as yet largely unforthcoming though there appears to be the momentum to make The Race happen.

But while adventurers and pioneers eye the chance to sail around the world non-stop at speeds of 40 knots plus, grand prix racing in its purest form will reside with the Volvo race. "I'm certain the EF campaign as it is now would not be good enough to win the next race," said Paul Cayard, anticipating the jump that will need to be made to be competitive next time. Volvo are committed to attracting at least 15 entries and in Cayard's view a two-boat campaign is essential to stand any chance of success. "If somebody gave me the money now I'd build two boats and I could make a lot of money developing the sail programme," he said recently.

This Whitbread exceeded all expectations. The event has taken sailing to the people helped by huge world-wide television distribution backed up by interactive coverage that is perfectly suited to following the tactical progress on the internet every six hours. For Volvo, upstaging this Whitbread will be a hard act to follow. So too will Paul Cayard.