Going for broke with a bulb built for high speed

A strict diet of rigorous yacht testing has left Grant Dalton hungry to begin a sixth global campaign, the Volvo Ocean Race
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The Independent Online

Once more into the breach, and it doesn't get any easier. While the party to celebrate the official launch yesterday – by the Aga Khan's daughter, Zahra, and Beatrice, the wife of the Italian fashion magnate Leonardo Ferragamo – of our two new Nautor Challenge boats, Amer Sports One and Amer Sports Too, was still going on at the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in Sardina's Porto Cervo, we had set sail for Spain.

The route will be deliberately lengthened to make sure we complete the 2,000-mile qualifying sail for the Volvo Ocean Race, which starts off Cowes on 23 September and will be followed by two weeks of boat and sail fine-tuning in northern Spain before heading on to Southampton.

I don't think I have ever worked so hard and all the people around me have put their shoulders to the wheel without a murmur of dissent. This may be my sixth round the world race and my seventh if you add the Club Med non-stop win we achieved in March. But the Volvo will be longer than its predecessor, the Whitbread, and could go right down to the last couple of legs. So we will be developing the boats right to the end.

It is an expensive business. We know that the other six syndicates have budgets of about £10m and I am convinced that the sport is unsustainable at that level. Even building the boats now takes 25,000 man hours when last time it took 19,000.

There are 10 stopover ports, if you count the start in Southampton, and the race lasts nine months. But the motivation is still there. It is what I do, it is my job. And the competitive instinct is bolstered by a fear of being thrashed by better prepared campaigns. At the moment the bookies are making me the outsider. I don't mind that, it's a nice position to be in. They are reading that perfectly and are hardly likely to instal us as favourites.

But we are further down the track than anyone could have believed three months ago and we may have a few surprises for those who have been preparing for a lot longer and look as though they are ahead.

Having started well behind our rivals, we still have a long way to go. But we have drawn a line in the sand and have arrived at this point in better shape than I had expected. We have been able to test both boats and the first of them, the one designed by the father and son duo of German and Mani Frers, is already at stage two in its development.

Everyone is looking for a combination of lightness and strength in the hull and mast so that every extra kilo possible can be put into the torpedo-shaped lead bulb at the bottom of the slim fin keel. We managed to save 200 kilos compared with the second boat, designed by Bruce Farr, but first tested the structure with the same weight of bulb. We gave it some curry – a good workout, jumping off waves – waiting to see if anything broke. It came through well, so we put the second, heavier bulb on.

Everyone thinks that I am such a dyed-in-the-wool Farr fan that there could be no question of which boat I will take and which, skippered by Lisa McDonald, will be raced by the all-woman crew. But if someone can give me a boat that is faster, I will marry them and have their children.

Whichever way things go, the women's crew will be have a fully tested boat, which should put them in a pretty good position. We are really trying to integrate the effort here and, if only because we still do not know which crew will take which boat, the best effort to improve them both is being made jointly by the crews.

While some of my rivals have been struggling to find the right crew mix, especially at a time when the forthcoming America's Cup has hoovered up so much of the world's talent, I have a fresh group of faces around me gathered together by my co-skipper, Bouwe Bekking. It is time for me to sail with some new blood. It may be a shock to some of their systems but, if it is, they are not saying so.

I think we know our way round the world by now. We are looking forward to it. It is good to be back.