Cape crusaders wait on battered rivals

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The Independent Online

The dockside in Cape Town has been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the fifth-placed boat in this first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, Assa Abloy.

Assa was due in this morning, fully three-and-a-half days behind leg winner Illbruck and second-placed Amer Sports One. Assa Abloy's fall from grace was spectacular and sudden just under two weeks ago when navigator Mark Rudiger took them into a windless hole after rounding the island of Trindade in the western South Atlantic. The boat dropped from a solid second to an out-of-touch fifth in under a day and reports have been coming in that experienced sailors are calling the ensuing period the worst of their sailing lives.

The Assa Abloy arrival will be in stark contrast to any of the four so far, the elation of the crews that finished in the top four compounded by the wretched and worsening plight of the crews still at sea. "I know what those guys will be going though and they'll be hurting badly inside," said Amer Sports One skipper Grant Dalton last week before boarding a plane to fly to New Zealand to see his new daughter, who was born seven weeks prematurely while Dalton himself was still at sea. "It gets much worse when you know your mates are ashore and having a shower and a beer," said the skipper, who had time to come ashore, have several showers, several nights in a comfortable bed, a crew meeting, a sponsor's meeting and his long flight before the Assa crew got their first glimpse of Cape Town's Table Mountain.

The only mitigating factors in the episode for skipper Roy Heiner and his crew will be the fact that they are not now four days behind the leader but just four points.

But if the crew of Assa Abloy have found these last two weeks tough, behind them there is a real battle that has developed not just for competitive survival but physical survival too. The leaders took around three days longer than expected, at the back SEB, Djuice Dragons and the all-womens' Amer Sports Too will be more than a week adrift when they arrive and freeze-dried food and diesel shortages have been a real problem to add to the fact that their crews have taken a beating for a week from 40-knot headwinds.

In Cape Town the shore team of Amer Sports Too were discussing the request from skipper Lisa Charles for steaks and burgers to be brought to the dockside. "We've got be careful how we feed them back up," they said. "The way their bodies have acclimatised, if we're not careful it'll be one big steak and they'll be in hospital for the rest of the stopover."

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