Sailing: Dalton starts fast in foul weather

In pouring rain under menacing clouds and beating their way upwind, but down Chesapeake Bay, the eight yachts in the Volvo Ocean Race started their seventh 3,400-mile leg to La Rochelle yesterday. Even the thousands taking part in the annual Bay Bridge walk, which coincides with the start, scurried on as the yachts tacked their way along a 6.5-mile corridor lined with spectator boats from the picturesque Maryland yachting centre of Annapolis.

In pouring rain under menacing clouds and beating their way upwind, but down Chesapeake Bay, the eight yachts in the Volvo Ocean Race started their seventh 3,400-mile leg to La Rochelle yesterday. Even the thousands taking part in the annual Bay Bridge walk, which coincides with the start, scurried on as the yachts tacked their way along a 6.5-mile corridor lined with spectator boats from the picturesque Maryland yachting centre of Annapolis.

The boats had made their way down from Baltimore for the start knowing that the first 140 miles out of the Bay could be important. "You may not win the leg in the Bay in these conditions," said Britain's Neal McDonald, the skipper of Assa Abloy, which lies second overall . "But you can very well lose it." He was fourth at the first gate as Grant Dalton repeated the turn of speed which saw him lead the fleet out of the Solent on the first leg.

The weather was expected to worsen before giving the fleet a fast ride up the Gulf Stream. The committeee has imposed an "ice box" exclusion zone west of Newfoundland, but the yachts are expected later to take a northerly option.

Bruno Peyron's 110ft catamaran Orange was still nursing its way more west than north yesterday as it continued to try and set a new record for sailing round the world and take the Jules Verne Trophy. Now 14 degrees north of the equator – they need to be 48 – they were making nearly 12 knots in the wrong direction, but they have 14 days left to beat the 71-day time set in 1997 by Olivier de Kersauson.

It is nearly a week since the titanium ball on which the wing mast rotates developed an alarming crack. A carbon fibre cast has been superimposed, but fears that too much strain from crashing upwind and up waves would lead to a catastrophe has led the crew to make a major detour and to steer the boat with kid gloves. But the crewman Nick Moloney, Ellen MacArthur's co-skipper on Kingfisher, hopes to make more direct progress towards the finish line at Brest.

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