Metronomic pace is right way to build up momentum

Grant Dalton, the skipper of Club Med, is almost half-way round the world as cautious tactics help his boat to draw further ahead in The Race
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The Independent Online

Home, however briefly, is beckoning. We should be through the Cook Strait, which separates the North and South Islands of my home country, New Zealand, in four days and that means we will, as far as I am concerned, be half-way through this race round the world.

Home, however briefly, is beckoning. We should be through the Cook Strait, which separates the North and South Islands of my home country, New Zealand, in four days and that means we will, as far as I am concerned, be half-way through this race round the world.

We are leaving the badlands behind, and they have been badlands, too. This is a mean stretch of the world across here and though the Southern Ocean hasn't hit us with its best shot, it has had quite a good crack at it. We have been buried in 30 to 50 knots of wind. Since we turned left under the St Helena High in the southern Atlantic, I have rarely seen the wind speed read-out with a two as the first number.

We have been under storm rig for the last three days and we still are. But in another day and a half we should turn left up into the Tasman Sea and towards the coast of New Zealand. The boat has been taking a beating, not least because there is so much movement between the 109ft catamaran hulls and there are places which are very difficult to check.

The force of the water hitting the forward beams, where the boat takes such a pounding, makes it hard to examine the underside. We have broken a lot of gear, but that has all been superficial and can be mended with a bit of ingenuity.

We have been playing the old Volvo (formerly Whitbread Race) Southern Ocean game of race pace. This is a place you do not want to be flashy. You can get away with it sometimes and other times it will come back to bite you. This is a place to be steady and very deliberate.

It is no surprise we have not opened a huge lead, although we are now over 800 miles ahead of Loick Peyron, in second place in Innovation Explorer. We have held a steady lead and slowly improved it. We know what the opposition is doing and this allows us to set our pace. Going back to motor racing examples, we are not trying to pull out two seconds a lap and risking a spin of our own. We are happy with a quarter of a second a lap and to keep building on that.

That is why Club Med has also been nicknamed Club Metronome. That is what we wanted to achieve, clicking off the miles at 550 a day, rather than pushing the boat, which can cause damage, or the crew, which can cause injury. We are not trying to break any records, though we did annihilate the previous best time between the Capes of Good Hope in South Africa and Leuwinin Australia. But we will keep the pressure on and the break will come.

We wanted to build a big enough cushion to allow us to stop in New Zealand if we needed to make repairs. But that is not something we want to do or plan to do. We know that Loick is short of sails and has said he has had some replacements made to pick up in Wellington. But even that will not tempt us to stop too, even though turning up into the Tasman will be like going on a Club Med holiday.

At the moment the boat structure looks good, though anything I say today could turn to custard tomorrow, and this is the time to cash in on all those months of preparation to make sure we could make it round the world. I had to suffer a lot of public criticism for changing the structure of the boat and there were even calls to have me removed on the grounds that I did not know enough about multihulls.

Now, we think we did the right thing and, additionally, the way we are sailing the boat has also settled into a good rhythm. We have learned a huge amount and that has come from the experience of the Whitbread. We look forward to glimpsing New Zealand, but the next real turning point will be Cape Horn.

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