Jangling nerves in battle to beat headwinds

Grant Dalton, skipper of Club Med, leads The Race by 1,000 miles but is taking no chances going into final stage
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The Independent Online

Nest stop: the equator, except we hope it will not mean being slowed by Doldrum light winds. The Race was meant to be a non-stop event and we are one of only two of the original six starters that have not stopped so far.

Nest stop: the equator, except we hope it will not mean being slowed by Doldrum light winds. The Race was meant to be a non-stop event and we are one of only two of the original six starters that have not stopped so far.

It is good to see that Cam Lewis is racing again but, after a second repair pit-stop in Wellington to fix the main cross beam, he has also seen his crew reduced to nine. It seems ages since we went through the Cook Straits and it is hard to believe that he still has 4,000 miles to go before rounding Cape Horn.

We also hear that Tony Bullimore has stopped again. He is in worse straits with his crew, as three are leaving. The two Frenchmen, Armand Coursodon and Olivier Cusin, are suffering from back injuries and an infection following a bang to the mouth and a chipped tooth. Rob Salvidge has said he is leaving for "personal medical reasons" but my guess is that he has had enough.

That leaves only seven to race Team Legato, but, then, there were only seven aboard when, as Enza, and in the hands of Peter Blake and Robin Knox-Johnston, she set a new Jules Verne world record time for sailing round the world.

One of the crew then was Ed Danby and he is with us as we sail up the last of the South American coast and back into the northern hemisphere. It seems amazing that it is less than 50 days since we were going the other way and we are already north of the point where Steve Fossett decided to call it a day in PlayStation.

Not that it is yet easy. The last four days have been horrible, 36 hours of them sheer hell as we battled through gale-force headwinds. These boats are great when reaching and running off the wind. But 109 feet of catamaran beating into a gale of headwind is not a happy affair and, in that respect, this has been the worst part of the trip. We always knew it could be and it means your nerves are on edge all the time. We have been very careful in preparing the boat to be strong enough but you feel every bang and the nerves are jangling when you hear a creak and think to yourself: "That's a new one, where did that come from?"

We have some more of that to come when we go through the trade winds north of the equator, but, with less than 4,000 miles to the finish in Marseilles, we also know we are entering the last stage.

Club Med has done over 20,000 miles and the most serious injury we have had is one twisted ankle. Our only physical problem has been weight loss. You always lose weight in the first 10 days and then, as the rhythm settles, you start wanting to eat more and more. Every stray crumb is pounced on as we eat everything in each day's ration. It would be nice to have some more, and the taste explosion of something as simple as a stick of chewing gum the other day was amazing in its intensity.

Still, we are stretching our lead out to 1,000 miles again over Loick Peyron in Innovation Explorer and we know the slipway to the motorway home is not far away. But we want as big a lead as possible as we do not want to have to push too hard over the final miles. You do not set fastest lap time voluntarily at the end of a grand prix. Anything can happen and we want as big a cushion as possible. The opera isn't over until the fat lady sings, and she is not even in the car yet.

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