Sailing: Air Force's support saved our sick crewman

Grant Dalton, skipper of Amer Sports One, pays tribute to the organisers of a slick rescue operation in the Volvo Ocean Race
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The Independent Online

The prizes on this leg of the Volvo Ocean Race will probably be decided in the next 24 hours as we are now round Eclipse Island off the south-west of Australia and have been wrestling with the decision about whether to keep Amer Sports One heading east or shift south, into the fresher wind.

It may be called an island, but Eclipse is little more than a rocky outcrop and for us it had a double significance as we dropped off our sick crew member, Keith Kilpatrick, who was suffering from a blocked intestine. There was a fishing boat waiting and it had a little rubber Zodiac to make the transfer easier. We just came head to wind and he was gone in 20 seconds. The whole operation probably took less than a minute.

First, he goes to a hospital in Albany, then on to Perth and will rejoin us in Sydney. The Volvo organisation has done a really nice job in co-ordinating the whole thing, but thanks also to the Royal Australian Air Force. Without the drop of medical supplies in the middle of last week Keith would have been seriously dehydrated. The saline drips turned things round, though he is still very weak.

Did that problem cost us time? Probably, in that you could use 18 people at times to drive these boats to their full potential, so to lose one out of 12 is bound to make a difference. And it compounded another problem. Keith was out of the game just before the Kerguelen Islands and it was there that we made a blunder: by going south we ran into some light air and that slowed us down. Then we turned north a little earlier than we might in order to ease the ride for Keith.

But that does not ease a sense of disappointment that we did not produce the edge we had hoped for when power reaching. We did not seem any better than the other boats. We were a little better in fresh air running, though we did feel good in heavy air, blast reaching.

That looks about the same story for the other non-Farr designed boat in this race – Knut Frostad's djuice – but the big picture says that no boat has any particular edge overall. Nor does there seem to have been the usual amount of gear failure. This could be due to being in the Southern Ocean for less time and in less wind than some remember. It also has to do with the more professional preparation on every boat. We know how they can perform in conditions down here by now.

Mind you, John Kostecki's illbruck had to make a brief Eclipse stop, too, for materials to repair the bow section hatch which let in so much water on their first night, they have been without wind instruments. Stu Bettany and Jamie Gale are both carrying injuries, and the Sat B has been down. Life is never easy.

The most difficult thing for us was to take the pain of going south when we had closed the gap on the leader, Gunnar Krantz in SEB, to 37 miles. That, technically, means we are still in striking distance. More realistically, we may be lucky enough to pull up a couple of places from our current sixth.

One of the major hurdles we have crossed on this leg is boat reliability – and that is a big tick in the book. But I always thought that to finish second on the first leg was a bit lucky and that it would take us until the end of the third leg, in Auckland, to be on the pace. I still think that is right; but I also think it will happen.

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