Kostecki takes the wind out of Dalton sails

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An elated John Kostecki was last night bringing illbruck home to almost certain victory in the opening leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. It had taken over 31 grinding 24-hour days and he was less than an hour ahead of the veteran Grant Dalton in Amer Sports One.

With less than 24 hours to go, and having been in the lead for the previous eight days, Dalton was finally overhauled and knew that with strong winds forecast all the way in an already tired crew would have to dig deep to put up a final fight.

The 7,350-mile leg has stretched in distance, for some by as much as 1,000 miles as there has been an unusually large proportion of upwind work, and time. The winner last time, Paul Cayard in EF Language, took 29 days, 16 hours and 54 minutes, nearly two days less than Kostecki. As is likely this time, he was six days ahead of the last in.

Dalton had a chance to regain the lead and victory right to the end, but was also content to be second. "I know of six other boats out there that would gladly trade places with us and, in the months ahead, there will be occasions when I would pay big money for a second," he said. "This is just the first round of a nine-round battle. There is real potential here and we will get better and better as the race progresses."

Also in philosophical mood was Ross Field, a previous winner of the race and navigator this time for the only British skipper, Jez Fanstone, on News Corp. Barring catastrophe they have third place firmly in their grip, though it will be late tonight before they cross the line. The time, said Field, was being spent doing some sail testing and evaluation ahead of the next leg.

If it has been a hard enough test for the first two home, it has been even harder for the remaining six and the last three of them still have more than 1,100 miles to run. Some have managed to eke out their food supplies, but others are running seriously short.

The fourth and fifth boats, Kevin Shoebridge's Tyco and Roy Heiner in Assa Abloy, will not be dining at the Tavern of the Seas, as Cape Town is also known, until Friday and Saturday nights, respectively. It could be next Monday, or even Tuesday, before all eight are safely home and between then and now there are forecasts of 30 to 35 knot headwinds. This will give boats a slamming, crews a further battering, and make the job of the turnaround all the harder.

The restart for the 6,500-mile second leg, which takes the fleet through the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties around Antarctica to Sydney, is on 11 November. With bigger shore crews, checking and repairing the boats is easier. Repairing bodies in 12 days is a tall order.