Sailing: 'All we have worked for has slipped through our fingers'

From Mike Sanderson, Skipper of ABN Amro 1 in the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race
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The Independent Online

I don't know if there is any sport as levelling as sailing. This leg to Melbourne has been an extreme rollercoaster for us all on board ABN Amro 1 but particularly for me. The first 24 hours out of Cape Town were truly hectic, there was a lot going on and we had our share of damage. But this is what we signed up for and we got through it.

Then we got our break. We latched on to a weather system that gave us a near 350-mile lead at one point.

In most sports, this sort of advantage would mean hold it together and you win. Unfortunately, sailing off the coast of Australia, this is not the case -we're in a very difficult time right now.

We knew this was coming, but the surprise was in the extent of the hit we have taken - we have seen everything we worked for slip between our fingers. Having said that there is nothing I would, or could, have done differently, but this has not made the situation any easier. Having had that considerable lead, just over 36 hours ago we became pretty much parked, moving along inch by inch.

We had hit an area of very light winds and were trying hard to navigate it as quickly as possible. The most frustrating thing is that the guys behind us have been hunting us down and starting to breathe down our neck - in fact at one point our "younger brothers" on ABN Amro 2 were clocked some seven miles ahead. To make matters worse they are on our old boat. Having broken the 24-hour world speed record this leg they have done an awesome job, whilealso rubbing a little more salt into our wounds.

This weather means no rest for me and a lot of work for the crew. It is not pretty. Our boat is not made for these conditions so it is the crew's job to get every last ounce of speed for every waking second. For sure, the pressure is on.

We are still working the watch system, four hours on and four hours off. Stan Honey, my navigator, and I are out of it (we "float") but, for me watches count for little - whether I am at the nav station, on deck or doing anything else I am worrying about the position reports, the wind, the miles we might be losing, what we can do to go faster. It never ends.

When we got the points round the first gate at the Kerguelen Islands people were asking about the other boats, the damage, the boats going back, etc. Of course we were gutted for them; it is tough luck and could happen to any of us.

I think what makes this race so unique are the contrasts. Five days ago we were, at times, trying to slow the boat to under 35 knots; this morning we had a semi-sarcastic cheer when the speedo went over one knot!

One of my main aims in the Southern Ocean was to have a fully intact race boat at Eclipse Island, the scoring gate 1,200 miles from the Melbourne finish. That we have done but there is still a tight sprint to the finish.

There is still all to play for. A lot of the last 1200 miles will be upwind and tough. It was in these conditions that both Brasil 1 and Ericsson broke in the first few days. So it is back to that fine line between pushing hard enough to win but not so hard we break the boat.

After a rugged couple of weeks, we are looking forward to finishing. The boat is 100 per cent and the guys are 100 per cent, but we are getting pretty smelly. Next time I am thinking about telling my lovely old Labrador that she stinks after drying out from being all salty I will think again - I think we beat her hands down on the smell stakes.

Mike Sanderson, skipper of ABN Amro 1 and overall leader of the Volvo Ocean Race writes regularly for The Independent

www.abnamro.com/team

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