Lured by promises of east

Grant Dalton, skipper of Amer Sports One, is taking a risk on leg four of the Volvo Ocean Race
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The Independent Online

We are still waiting to see if we win, lose or draw after our decision to sail extra miles and go east of the Falkland Islands as we chase John Kostecki in illbruck up the Atlantic to Rio. It just seemed the obvious thing to do, even though most of the fleet has gone the other, westerly, route. Are we right and they are wrong? You have to make decisions like this and we figured it was the right thing to do based on the weather information we had and, historically, it is right to go east.

We have been going a lot better than I thought we might because we are learning all the time how to sail the boat and because we have been pushing it harder, too. We have improved our helming strength by bringing in Freddy Loof and we have maybe five guys now who can push things along very well.

My personal picture of the Southern Ocean was epitomised about five nights ago when the waves must have been a good 80 feet tall, like something out of The Perfect Storm. We were knocked sideways, completely out of control and I saw 32.7 knots of boat speed on the clock.

We are still playing catch-up after hitting the water so late, not least because we are always aiming at a moving target. Our rivals are also improving. And they have been doing just as we have, developing sailing techniques on the boat and developing speed weapons ashore.

The character of the race changes after we have completed this leg because, so far, there has been a lot of emphasis on heavy airs sailing, on upwind sailing, and on long legs. After Rio, the style of sailing the boat changes and with it we will see a whole bunch of new sails coming on to the boat.

The cumulative tiredness problems which seemed to be affecting crews on the first three legs are not the problems they were. It is amazing what the body can get used to and we are fine. Having rounded Cape Horn, we have had two good off-watches where people have been able to eat and sleep well. It only takes a couple of days of good weather and the guys are fine again. I expect that is true of all the boats.

Seeing one boat win three legs out of the first four, if JK can hold on to the lead until the end, is not as daunting as it looms at first sight. First he has got to win it and we haven't given up yet. Second we have to hold on to our second place, and that would mean illbruck would have only a four-point lead, nowhere near enough even to feel confident, never mind cocky..

We feel confident we can do well on the tactically important shorter legs, when we will have Dee Smith back after his shoulder surgery. He has already shown how well he can work with Roger Nilson in the navigation department so, as Paul Cayard moves off, the return of Dee should be very smooth. That is the only change we plan to make in Rio and I am confident that the combination of a settled, always improving crew and the new sails will make us a very strong competitor.

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