Sailing: Assa Abloy leads into home straight

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The Independent Online

There was plenty to celebrate yesterday for Neal McDonald and the crew of Assa Abloy as they approached the northern tip of New Zealand with a 50-mile lead over their nearest rival, Grant Dalton's Amer Sports One.

They are less than 500 miles from the finish of leg three of the Volvo Ocean race from Sydney to Auckland, a reversal of more crushing fortunes on the first two legs, and they had the Sydney to Hobart Race crown already tucked in the locker.

But there was caution, too, as the navigator Mark Rudiger tracked the activities of a high pressure system that threatened to trap them in an area of calm off Cape Reinga. The same thing had happened to the leg leader, Gunnar Krantz, in Swedish Match in the last race.

This time Krantz is sailing under less pressure, having retired SEB from this leg with a broken rudder, returned to Australia for repairs, and then set off for Auckland to finish the work in time for the start of the fourth leg around Cape Horn on 27 January.

"The big question is whether the dropping wind will stay where it is and allow the others to catch up," said Rudiger, whose tactical move north after Hobart gave them better winds.

Behind them Dalton was not optimistic about making up the deficit and had his own defensive worries even about his nearest rival, John Kostecki taking third place in illbruck another 60 miles astern.

VOLVO OCEAN RACE (Third leg, Sydney to Auckland, 2,050 nautical miles): 1 Assa Abloy (N McDonald) 478nm to the finish; 2 Amer Sports One (G Dalton) 531; 3 illbruck (J Kostecki) 591; 4 News Corp (J Fanstone) 595; 5 Tyco (K Shoebridge) 596; 6 djuice (K Frostad) 638; 7 Amer Sports Too (L McDonald) 1,044. Retired: SEB.