Sailing: Dalton prays for the doldrums

Volvo Ocean Race
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The Volvo Ocean Race fleet left Rio yesterday en route for Miami at the beginning of a new phase of the round-the- world race. Though this is just leg five of nine and fewer than half of the points have been raced for, the great capes of the world are behind the crews of the eight boats, as are the big Southern Ocean sleigh-rides and most of the ice (it is unlikely but not impossible to bump into a berg in the north Atlantic).

By the time the fleet left Brazil four years ago, EF Language had amassed such an impressive points haul that although Paul Cayard and his team were still mathematically beatable, all the talk was of fighting for second place.

This time illbruck has been has been similarly impressive, having won three of the four legs. And already Grant Dalton, in second place in Amer Sports One, will need to do more than just beat illbruck into second place on each of the remaining legs to topple them. "I usually have a feeling about how each leg will go," Dalton said. "And I have a good feeling about this one."

Dalton's confidence, echoed around the fleet, will have been bolstered by the fact that if the illbruck campaign has shown any weakness it has been in light airs. And although the first few days of this 18-day or so 4,450-mile leg will be relatively windy, once the boats reach the equator and the doldrums there will be tricky patches of windless, volatile weather that could give a team a jump back into the northern hemisphere that would be impossible to overcome on what should be a tactically simple reach through the Caribbean to Miami.

With a lead of seven points, though, there are very few bets being taken against John Kostecki and his crew. As a fighting unit they are unflinch-ing and while others juggle with new crew imports and switches between teams, illbruck post an unchanged crew sheet for leg after leg.

In reality, Amer Sports Too, SEB and dJuice Dragons are all out of this race, but ahead of them just four points separate second from fifth in a clutch of teams that have enjoyed and suffered mixed fortunes but retain leg-winning potential.

The Amer One crew have been fighting above their weight to be second this far into the race after preparing for the race so much later than the rest. But Dalton will be looking over his shoulder at his former crewman Neal McDonald, just two points behind him on Assa Abloy. Assa is a fast boat and this could be their moment. Meanwhile News Corp and Tyco are not out of touch despite both having to recover from broken rudders (Tyco on leg two where the team were forced to retire and News Corp on leg four where the crew managed to finish under emergency rudder).

This will be a boat-speed leg with a throw of the dice at the equator as the doldrums threaten to swallow the unwary. Things have got to the stage where seven skippers now have the same dream – the doldrums swallowing the green hull of illbruck.