Photo Shoot: Sailing: Awesome company joins battle as the stakes rise

Merit Cup finished the first leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race in second place, but the second leg is only a week old and the boat is already in trouble. Merit Cup's skipper, Grant Dalton, explains why he now has to concentrate his strategy on wha
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At last we have what the Southern Ocean is meant to be. Some strong breeze to drive the boats along and the hope that we can make up for what has proved to be a pretty disastrous opening stretch out of Cape Town on the way to Fremantle.

The guys are all dressed in survival suits to keep them warm and it's quite a contrast with the warm and sunny conditions we have been experiencing, conditions we did not want and have not enjoyed experiencing.

It was on Wednesday that the weather front we had been waiting for came through and from slow, drifting progress we were powered up by a 30-knot wind pushing us at 15 knots. It all happened in a period of about six hours and is allowing us to push south for another 500 miles, which is about as far south as we will go. We could be going quicker if we could alter the angle and sail a little less close to the wind, but we figure that will happen anyway.

We can only hope that the frustration is over, but what will not go away yet is the worry that this is going to be our bad leg. The way the race is organised is that one long regatta is split into a number of races and you have to expect to have a bad one some time. This one may be ours, and it is doubly unwelcome as the points system makes this a high-scoring leg, so every place we lose counts more points against us, more to make up on legs which score less.

Gunnar Krantz in Swedish Match put a four-mile dig out to sea leaving Cape Town and that was a very smart sea. But you don't normally expect to see four miles turned into 400 so we are a bit disappointed they have got such a good break.

I have to say, also, that Kvaerner deserve to be where they are because they punched out south hard and it worked for them, while Paul Standbridge in Toshiba slipped away when they were inside us. That's a bit hard to swallow.

It means we are back here fighting out the minor placings and we have got awesome company. It's not like we are fighting with all the back runners, we are up against front row players like Lawrie Smith in Silk Cut and Paul Cayard in EF Language. It's going to be very hard.

The mood on board is not at all black. We know it's part of this race that a boat that was nearly at the back on the first leg is now so far in front that nobody is likely to catch them. You have just got to be reasonably philosophical about it.

We have sorted out the food rations. We thought it would take 16 days and planned for four meals a day after feeling we had not been eating enough on the first leg. It has been easy enough to cut that back to three meals a day in the expectation that we will take 18 days.

So far there have been no problem with the boat, mainly because of the light conditions. Just one ripped reacher as it collapsed against one of the mast spreaders in the floppy air. But we aren't expecting any more light stuff until the final approach to Fremantle. And we can still do some catching up. The way the positions are calculated is by using the great circle route, which is quite high, so the boats in the north and east always look better than the ones in the south.

We are still hoping to be fourth, though even that will be difficult against Smith and Cayard, and would be more of a salvage position than an achievement. But if any of the top three run into problems or damage, the position could change again.

It has now become a true Southern Ocean leg. The boys are a pretty even- tempered lot. They just get on with the job, whatever it is. But the tougher it is, the better it is for us now. We haven't given up all hope of a top three position on every leg.

Copies of these photographs - and any others by the Independent's sports photographers David Ashdown, Peter Jay and Robert Hallam - can be ordered by telephoning 0171-293-2534.

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