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EDITIONS
Thursday, 2 April, 1998, 08:00 GMT 09:00 UK
Leg Six: Silk Cut sails in first
champagne soaking
Smith sprayed crewmates with champagne after their first meal on land for 16 days.
The British yacht Silk Cut, skippered by Lawrie Smith, has arrived first in Fort Lauderdale on the Florida coast to win the sixth leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race.

The crew arrived in port 20.7 miles ahead of the overall race leader, EF Language of Sweden.

The jubilant 11 immediately celebrated the end of the 4,750-mile leg with beer and burgers.

"You're always waiting to get in. It doesn't matter if you're out for a week or a month. After five days you just want to get back in," said crewman Gerry Mitchell.

With its first stage victory since the competition began in September, Britain's only entry has moved up to sixth place overall.

After a mediocre first four legs, Smith changed navigators but he suffered another setback with a dismasting in the fifth leg that robbed Silk Cut of a realistic chance of winning the overall title.

Sunday's win does give a boost to crew morale and makes Silk Cut a serious contender for more honours in the final three stages, according to commentators.

However, EF Language now has a huge lead. EF Language skipper, Paul Cayard, has now decided that he is so far ahead that he can afford to sit out the short seventh leg and prepare for the trans-atlantic crossing.

Beating the Doldrums

Map of Whitbread sixth leg
Silk Cut completed the leg four days earlier than expected
The sixth leg started in Sao Sebastiao, Brazil, on March 14 and was expected to end on April 2.

But the boats breezed through the Doldrums, the zone near the equator known for little wind and calm seas, with good speed.

"Before we started, they told us we probably wouldn't see winds over 15 knots, and I don't think we've seen under 15 knots. The first night we got 35 knots. We were absolutely screaming," Mitchell said.

Smith said it felt good to finally win a leg. "I'm disappointed we broke the mast on the last one because I felt we could have won."

However, navigator Vincent Geake summed up the crew's feelings. "It was very, very tight racing. EF Language got past us, and we overtook them again. That was the most satisfying thing."

The race began in Southampton in England, in September and will end there in May.

The yachts sail for Baltimore on April 19 and will stop in La Rochelle, France, before heading home to Southampton.

Overall standings after the sixth leg:

1 EF Language 608 points
2 Swedish Match 493
3 Merit Cup 477
4 Chessie Racing 454
5 Innovation Kvaerner 449
6 Silk Cut 399
7 Toshiba 343
8 BrunelSunergy 248
9 EF Education148

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