Fast start was the perfect fillip

Grant Dalton, the skipper of Amer Sports One, is keeping pace in the Volvo Ocean Race
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The Independent Online

Nine days into the Volvo Ocean Race and I can sense that the crew of Amer Sports One is very quickly becoming an effective unit.

Nine days into the Volvo Ocean Race and I can sense that the crew of Amer Sports One is very quickly becoming an effective unit.

Before the race started we hadn't had much sailing time together as a crew, because we did most of our testing with mixed crews with the women of Amer Sports Too. That way we could even out any disparities in strength and experience so the tests would provide some reliable results.

Competitively we were very much an unknown quantity because we had done only one short race together. What is really significant to me is the combination of skill, knowledge and common sense on deck that translates the strategy of the afterguard – the watchleaders, navigator and skipper – into the real world, which is our performance against the rest of the fleet. The evidence is on the water. Few people expected it, but we're right up there.

We hit the start line tough and angry and blew the rest of the fleet away. They were half-way down the Solent before they woke up. That was good for the morale of the guys who had had no time off and had been working some incredible hours. And we're still right up there as the race has progressed. I'll probably regret saying that. Who knows what will happen between now and Cape Town.

I'm more relaxed on this boat that I ever have been in the past. Perhaps that's because I'm older and wiser, but I do not feel the same pressure on us, not the expectation that we would blitz the fleet that you have to live up to or be crucified in the media. The lack of pressure from the opposition probably makes it easier to make tactical and strategic decisions. I'm sure that not having to look over my bloody shoulder all the time sharpens the decision making.

We have a mass of weather data. One computer is clogged with it. The navigator, Roger Nilson, has a very analytical approach. Based on our assessment of the data we agree on a medium to longer-term strategy. Currently our tactics are to head south and east, because we believe that's the favoured place.

I just hope we can get far enough east, because we are approaching an area of high pressure, less wind and the first boat out of that into the trade winds will be looking famous.

We leave it to the guys on deck, particularly Bouwe Bekking and Dee Smith, our short-course experts, to get us there with minimum expense. They work the wind shifts and work the other boats to do that, and they're really good at it.

We also have some really good helmsmen in Dee and Bouwe, Chris Nicholson and Keith Kilpatrick. The concentration of our trimmers, including Claudio Celon and Stefano Rizzi, especially is amazing. They have adapted their America's Cup experience in trimming for round-the-buoys racing to this marathon event very successfully. Their concentration doesn't waver for an entire four-hour watch. I watched them all working in the light as we sailed boat on boat. We were sharp. We cleaned out illbruck and News Corp, although they have now come back at us, and have been right up there with Tyco and Assa Abloy.

Now we really believe that we do not lack boat speed. Big boats that are beamy on the waterline are not supposed to do that well in the light yet we have held on to the leaders as we threaded our way through the ridge of high pressure. That's a real bonus. We're right in the thick of it. It's all a bit of a surprise to us actually. The Frers-designed boat has not let us down. We are not down on pace at any point of sailing encountered so far. The lighter, narrower boats couldn't shake us off earlier in the week. However, we're not quite as slippery upwind in the heavier stuff as we thought we might be.

We're not sure where we have an advantage, if we have one at all. We do know that we have a boat that has proved it can foot it with the Farr designs. This far down the track any one of five boats could win the leg – and the race. Tyco, Assa, illbruck, News Corp and us. I don't include SEB, because they've had a problem.

The Volvo Ocean Race is getting to be something like a boxing match. For the first three rounds it's hard to tell who's got the advantage. Then one of the boat starts to show out in rounds four, five and six. My guess is that it will take a few legs before someone starts to show out. A pattern will emerge – it always does.