Sailing: Weather gods hold sway in our charge of the light brigade

The skipper of Merit Cup looks to the skies for a Whitbread boost into Baltimore
Click to follow
The Independent Online
LEG SIX from Brazil to Florida was a very bad one for us. I was more disappointed with our fifth place than I was with seventh at the end of the second leg into Fremantle. Then we could address the problems that needed fixing. This time we were just plain outgunned. Once the Whitbread Round the World fleet started reaching in those fresh breezes north of the Equator we were mown down.

Admittedly, our routing choice was not as good as that of leg winner Lawrie Smith. Silk Cut's positioning was a dream and they were perfectly placed to take the best advantage of the weather all the way. But I was still reasonably happy with the choices we made. However, the weather was against us. We sailed the leg in five days less than would have been ideal for us because there was lot more breeze than is ideal for us.

If we had been able to foresee the heavier conditions in our planning that would have been enough to swing the choice away from our lighter, narrower boat, to the heavier, beamier one we left behind in Southampton last September.

So, where does that leave us? Mathematically, it is still possible for us to win. But to do that Paul Cayard's EF Language would have to fall down badly on at least two of the three remaining legs.

Realistically, for us the race is for second place. That is not being defeatist, it is facing up to reality. At least we know that of the three pre-race favourites we are the only one in the top three. On the last leg we put more points between us and Chessie Racing and we are in a strong position to retrieve second overall from Swedish Match.

We are not going to change our style, we are not going to take flyers in a desperate effort to catch Cayard, and we are going to keep a very close eye on Swedish Match. We are also going to keep a close eye on what Chessie is doing as they will be on fire for the next leg to their home port of Baltimore, which starts on 19 April. Having won the leg into Auckland we know exactly what that is all about.

And we hope that, for once, the weather gods will at last smile on us, giving us the moderate running conditions in which we excel. It is just as likely that there will be a blustery north-easterly to whip up the north-flowing Gulf Stream and then all kinds of mayhem could break loose.

We are having to repair a crack in our mast here in Fort Lauderdale and we know that, once again, many of our rivals are worrying about mast fatigue. The big question is why Cayard is being allowed to fit a new mast if the old one is not irreparably damaged? Are competitors again being allowed to circumvent the rules? It seems the race office is scared of having an accusing finger pointed at them if something were to go wrong.

But if we can stay in touch for the first 750 miles of what is no more than an extended Fastnet Race, then the last 120 up Chesapeake Bay could be very good for us.

It is also good to hear that Volvo will be making an announcement in Baltimore about the 2001 round the world race. They have been pretty quiet so far, just evaluating everything. It is time they made their presence felt.

And that goes for us, too. We shall have the same crew. We are in good shape as far as sail selection is concerned, and I am back in training now that the collar-bone is mended. There is still plenty to fight for.