A humiliated crew surviving on scraps

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The Independent Online

If I had to describe my feelings right now I guess I would say cold, down in the mouth and absolutely starving. Despite a great first half to the leg it looks pretty clear that Assa Abloy is going to finish a disappointing fifth.

As I write this we still have 400 or so miles to go, three boats have finished, one is 200 or so miles ahead and one 500 miles behind. Not exactly what you would call an exciting finish for the fleet and a rubbish result for us.

The weather over the last 2,500 miles has been such that any small separation between the boats has been maginfied – so much so that at as the first boat finished there were 1,300 miles to the last boat. We made a tactical misjudgement while in what looked a safe second place and that allowed boats behind to jump to 700 miles ahead – a cruel and unusual situation in the weather. I'm annoyed and disappointed, but I have to say well done to Illbruck – they sailed smart and stayed cool.

Apart from the humiliation of being so far behind there are other problems associated with our position. The light weather has meant the leg has lasted much longer than expected – we ran out of food two days ago and are living on little bits and pieces we saved earlier – particularly unpleasant when it is getting really cold outside and you know that some of the crews you were racing neck and neck just two weeks ago are currently tucking into a huge dinner somewhere and are out of their damp, smelly clothes. Secondly, a delay in finish time means less time in the stopover – a small point to the outside world but quite a large issue to us.

Whereas stopovers may appear to be just a beer-swilling excuse for a two-week party they actually represent a considerable amount of hard work for the sailors. Like most crews I for one would vote for fewer stopovers – they represent a real headache. The whole boat is pulled apart, checked and put back together – an immense task, performed, on the whole, by the sailing crew themselves. Getting in late means less time to do this, so obviously the first thing to suffer is our precious time off, which will probably be reduced to two or three days now.

Despite the huge difference in finishing times this first leg has indicated that the fleet is incredibly well matched. Only Illbruck stands out – they appear most organised and well rehearsed. They will have to keep a good lookout though as there are several strong teams who will have learned plenty from this leg and be hard on there heels in the next.

It is going to be a long, hard race and with pretty equal boats it is going to be down to the sailors and navigators – in the end I guess a string of consistent results will tell. I am very happy to say that our speed on Assa Abloy appears really good in all the conditions we encountered during the first three weeks of this leg. Our sail programme looks good and we have a strong crew, so I see every opportunity for us to get to the front of the pack, but one thing is for sure – it's not going to be easy.

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