Always alert to awesome power of the sea

Grant Dalton, the skipper of Club Med, has a large lead in The Race but is leaving nothing to chance in waves 25 metres from tip to trough
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The Independent Online

We are doing more than 500 miles a day now, pushing hard when we can, easing back when the conditions become difficult, but never taking things easy. Sometimes, when you are surfing at over 30 knots down a wave, you wonder what will happen at the bottom. If we are lucky, we go up over the next wave. If we are not we nosedive into the wave in front.

We are doing more than 500 miles a day now, pushing hard when we can, easing back when the conditions become difficult, but never taking things easy. Sometimes, when you are surfing at over 30 knots down a wave, you wonder what will happen at the bottom. If we are lucky, we go up over the next wave. If we are not we nosedive into the wave in front.

The bow digs in and we slow down abruptly to 18 or 20 knots. As the bow goes in, the stern sometimes lifts a little, but there is no feeling that it might continue to lift and put us in danger of pitch-poling end over end. Still, no wonder the boys on Innovation Explorer were anxious the other night, doing 40 knots and knowing there was ice about.

Loick Peyron and his men are about 650 miles behind us now and Cam Lewis is in Cape Town for repairs to the forward fairing and main beam on Team Adventure. After the arm wrestle down the Atlantic there was no way we could have kept up that pace without something coming unglued. I think it may take longer than the minimum 48 hours which he has to stop to make things good.

If the starboard side has gone, he will need to check the other side, too. And there is some core work to do. We had rebuilt that section with the help of Hi-Modulus in New Zealand as part of our preparations. But it may be an additional worry for Loick. He really cannot afford to drive one of these boats down the mine.

The race may have changed for us in that our strategy may now allow us to build a big enough lead to stop voluntarily in the Cook Strait to fix the boat for the second half of the Southern Ocean and then back up the Atlantic to the finish in Marseilles.

What we definitely do not want between now and then is any major breakage of our own. At least Cam could go to Cape Town. We will have nowhere to go. In a week's time we should be underneath Australia, six to eight days after that in New Zealand. It would be great to exit the pits there with a full tank of fuel.

Then there are about eight days to the big left turn at Cape Horn. But anything can happen any time. We are constantly fixing minor problems and to that end I have a very resourceful army in Neal McDonald, Ed Danby and Jan Dekker. Even so, the conditions can sometimes make it just too dangerous to send someone up our huge wing mast. We remember a chastened Paul Cayard after his crewman Curtis Blewitt took such a beating doing that in the last Whitbread Race.

The real limitation on these boats is not the wind strength, though we have had our fair share of that in the last few days, and both my navigator, Mike Quilter, and shoreside weather expert, Roger Badham in Sydney, tell me there is more on the way. It is the sea state which does the most damage. People may think I am exaggerating when I say the waves can be 25 metres from tip to trough, but I am not. And the force with which they hit the boat is tremendous. We cannot leave sails tied to the trampoline netting stretched between the two 109-foot hulls because the water just tries to rip them away.

Twice we have had to mend big holes, dangerous if anyone were to fall through even if they were clipped on by a lifeline. The force of a wave coming through the netting the other day was enough to sprain Neal's ankle. He is fit again now, but we are very careful.

We wanted to be first into the Southern Ocean, we prefer to be the hunted rather than the hunter and we are breaking frontiers down here when it comes to sailing this kind of boat, at these speeds, for so long. But the worry will not go way. There is a hell of a long way to go.

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