Sailing: Knights of the seas ready for Southern Ocean joust

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The Independent Online
Last-minute checks to sails and a wary eye on an approaching weather front kept crews of the nine remaining yachts in the Whitbread Round The World Race busy in Cape Town yesterday before the start of the second leg to Fremantle.

Today the fleet sets out on the toughest of the nine legs - a 4,600-mile dash across the daunting Southern Ocean, which is expected to take half the time of the 30-day first leg.

"The pressure is really on and the sail development programme never sleeps," said Kevin Shoebridge, the watch captain on the second-placed Merit Cup, who will be taking two, new specialist sails, as well as a heavier mainsail.

Paul Cayard won the 7,350-mile leg from Southampton in Sweden's EF Language, but is still "respectful of the fact that we are basically Whitbread novices".

"I think the first leg was a bit of an anomaly and the margin by which we won was unusual," he said. "Leg two will be quite different. I suspect the boats will stay much closer together."

The man most likely to challenge Cayard, Britain's Lawrie Smith, was also playing a cagey game, saying, on the one hand, "yes, we will be sailing conservatively" and on the other that Silk Cut "will be flying".

Smith fully expects to improve on his fourth position. "We've spent a lot of time developing sails for the Southern Ocean," he said, "and I'm confident we've the sails and the hull to be at the front this time."

The last-placed boat, Brunel Sunergy, which had to put in to Brazil on the first leg after a collision with a whale damaged her rudder, has picked up a new navigator, Stuart Quarrie.

Moderate to strong winds are forecast for the start in Table Bay. The fleet - minus America's Challenge who ran out of money after reaching Cape Town - will head down the coast and past the Cape of Good Hope before heading for Australia.

- Stuart Alexander