Sailing: Beaten, but our toys are still in playpen

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The Independent Online
No damage, no injuries and no one wanting to jump ship - the skipper of Merit Cup found some positives among the negatives of a slow second leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race.

Everyone has a bad day at the office. Jacques Villeneuve crashes and loses a race, Nick Faldo misses a putt and drops a championship. We have missed a couple of moves and a couple of decisions. We have had a bad leg from Cape Town to Fremantle and came seventh out of nine.

But, and there are several buts. The first thing is that nothing is broken. It may look as if we have to pick up the pieces, but we haven't thrown our toys out of the playpen.

We are not used to being beaten, but we haven't lost sight of the fact that the crew can handle anything that is thrown at them and the boat can hold its own alongside any of the others except in very heavy running conditions. We have the best navigator in the world, although his ego has taken a severe battering. I see no need to change anything.

Yes, we are likely to look around for additional sources of weather analysis, but we already have one of the foremost experts in Bob Rice. It will not hurt to talk to a few more people and the next, 2,250-mile leg round to Sydney will be a tricky one.

The story of this last leg is an absolute one-liner. We were in the wrong place. The safety gear was hardly taken out of its bag. The mainsail looks almost new. You can even still see the crease marks from when we took it out its delivery bag.

All sportsmen know that losses soon pass into history provided there are victories to take their place. I thought the pecking order would have been established by now. It has not. I thought there would be an overall perspective to the race. There is not.

I think that will come in Auckland [after the fourth leg] and if we are not near the top by then we might have to think about radical change. But at the moment there is no Plan B. We don't feel we need one. We don't want to feel we need one.

Nor are we into sports psychology and morale-building. I don't believe in that kind of stuff. If I was getting too hacked off, the rest of the crew would soon let me know. There have been no injuries and we will have the same crew for the next leg. No one has told me he wants to get off.

We now have two weeks to look at planning and strategy. You could almost feel the crew start to lift as soon as we finished the nightmare and could start to look forward. We intend to come out strong, knowing that the points system has kept us in the hunt, although Kvaerner has a nice cushion now and Paul Cayard's EF Language will be competitive again, despite the battering he says they took.

There are two highlights for me from the second leg. The first was the world record 449 miles in 24 hours by Lawrie Smith's Silk Cut. I see that as the biggest achievement and one which, given the way our boat is built, I would be hard pushed to match.

The second was running at 15 knots with a pod of whales nearby. They were going faster. If I can cope with Merit Cup being beaten by a whale I can cope with anything.