Mike Sanderson on board ABN Amro 1: Speed-test purgatory, Southern Ocean hell

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The Independent Online

Christmas day for the Kiwis away from home in Cape Town was just how we like it - warm and sunny.

The chance to fire up the barbeque and enjoy a quiet moment was great, but by the time the UK wakes up to read this we will have been hard at work for a couple of hours making final preparations for a 25-mile Boxing Day inshore race.

The inshore factor of the Volvo Race is a topic that has received a fair amount of column inches and, in particular, our performance in light airs. Of course, we hope we don't have a repeat of the opener in Spain, when we were last, but if it is light we will aim to be pretty aggressive on the start line, trying to start in front and then just get our elbows out; if it is windy then we feel we will be just fine speed-wise.

There is always a reality check after a champagne finish like the one we had nearly a month ago, particularly in a race like this where it is all about reliability and performance all the way round the world, not just in one leg. Being first was good; ABN 2 being second was a real bonus.

Hauling the boats out of the water and going through the job list meant everyone was quickly back into being focused. The sailing team first had to work with the shore crew pulling the boat into a million bits and checking it all out, seeing what we really had wrecked, how much damage the fire had done, and what the rudder looked like. We are off into the Southern Ocean next and everything has to be in tip-top condition.

However, the sailing team did get a week off while the shore team was left to start on the fairly large job list. It was a well needed rest and a chance for us all to catch up with friends and family away from the race.

It is a fine balance in giving the guys enough time to recharge, but it is also so important that each one of us knows exactly what is going on and how the boat ticks as we are the ones that need to fix the things that go wrong when we are deep in the Southern Ocean - so this means we cannot be away for too long.

Still, the general theme for holidays seemed to have been focused on windsurfing and safaris, and to see the "Big Five" (the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino). Since all this, we have now put our heads down and really got on with making sure the boat is fully prepared for the next stage. There is so much said and written about the Southern Ocean that you could be forgiven for thinking it is just so much hype. Is it really that bad? Can it be? Quite simply, yes, it is that bad.

So our sights are also already on the Melbourne leg. It will be just interesting to see if we get more then 550 miles worth of weather so that the world record of 546 which we set on the first leg will be broken again. I believe every one of the seven new open 70 yachts in the race is capable of breaking that record, given the right conditions. Whatever happens, for sure we are in for a very wet and wild time.