Sailing: Challenging days ahead with only a small cuddly cat for company

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The Independent Online

Finally preparations for the final leg, which starts a week today, are almost done.

Sunday 6 April, hotel, Salvador, 19.15

Finally preparations for the final leg, which starts a week today, are almost done. The electronics are fixed and ready. The hydraulic rams that drive the autopilots have been replaced. The two vital wind instruments at the top of the 80-foot mast are in place (one is a back-up). We've also installed the latest computer maps and updated all the anti-virus software on each of my three laptops. The water maker – unused for a few weeks – has been chemically cleansed. Some nasty things can grow in the filters, which could make me seriously unwell. The water maker means the only water I have to carry is the compulsory minimum required by the race committee plus the emergency supply in my "grab bag", which I'd take if I had to use the life raft.

Monday 7 April, hotel, 21.35

Final check on all the headsails. The last thing was to fold up the storm gib (small bright orange headsail for use in storms) into the smallest size possible. It has to be small so that I can get it up on to deck easily in a hurry.

Tuesday 8 April, marina, 16.50

I've spent today studying the weather and route to Newport, Rhode Island. This leg is "short" but still more than 4,000 miles. As the equator – and the shifting, unpredictable doldrums – draws nearer, the heat will intensify. At times I won't be able to stand on the darker bits of the deck and I'll sweat into my clothes for days on end – nice! After about 1,000 miles, it will be into the trade winds. As soon as we pass Florida, the low pressure systems will kick in and will be a case of keeping an eye out for squalls and ships from the umpteen fishing ports on the east coast. Then all that will be left will be to sail out of the Gulf Stream, avoid any ships heading for New York, cross my outbound track and head into Newport harbour. If only it would be so simple.

Thursday 10 April, hotel, 22.10

I went out to buy a souvenir today and came back with a bracelet. My cabin is full of mementoes and lucky charms – various things given to me during the race and a couple from when I first started sailing. The main one is a small, cuddly cat that my mum gave me years ago and has been on every ocean trip since.

Friday 11 April, hotel, 10.00

Two days to go. Weather and tactics are dominating now. Going into this final leg I'm in third place behind Bernard Stamm and Thierry Dubois. As long as I don't finish this leg more than one place behind Simone Bianchetti aboard Tiscali, I'll maintain my podium position overall. That is certainly one aim. Above everything, I want to race to the best of my abilities. It's what I've tried to do all along. It seems incredible how fast these past eight months have gone and how much I've learnt by doing something – racing solo, with all its downsides – that I actually don't like. But then as TS Eliot said: "Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go." That quote is written on the chart table in Pindar's cabin. Hopefully, in the next few weeks, I'll find I've been able to go right around the world.

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