Sailing: Illbruck operate at different level

Volvo Ocean Race
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet has been at sea a week and racing north from Rio to the left turn into the northern hemisphere at the north east tip of Brazil. It has be close, intense and hot racing with the lead changing regularly among the group of five or even six boats that have managed to cling to contention. But after moments in the limelight first for News Corp and then for Tyco and Assa Abloy, normal service was resumed as yesterday Illbruck slid to the front as the crews prepared to return to the northern hemisphere for the first time since 10 October last year.

The portents for the chasing pack are not good. This is now boatspeed sailing where the finesse of the sail development programme is the key factor as the boats reach north west towards the Caribbean with few tactical opportunities. And with four years of development behind them, the Illbruck team are working at a different level of sophistication.

And though the fleet has yet to officially clear The Doldrums, where rival skippers might have hoped Illbruck could be held up, the signs are that the fleet will carry breeze, albeit light, through the next few days and into the firmer and more steady north east trade winds.

Last night Illbruck headed a breakaway pack with Tyco and Assa Abloy only one and two miles behind. These three have put 40 miles on News Corp which heads the second group with SEB, Amer Sports One, dJuice and Amer Sports Too all within 25 miles of each other. Behind the three leaders, who are all tracking each other within a few degrees, boats are sailing differing angles north west as the sails they have designed and elected to carry dictate different fastest angles of sailing.

The leaders are due into Miami in 10 days' time and if Illbruck leads the charge home it will be a victory that will almost certainly break the spirit of their competition though it still will not put the race beyond mathematical doubt.

The glimmer of hope for Kevin Shoebridge in charge of Tyco and Neal McDonald and his crew of Assa Abloy is that here are two campaigns that are on a powerful curve of improvement after early difficulties.

If either or both are able to find a way past the boat that has won three of the four previous legs over the next week or so, there will be plenty to celebrate and furthermore plenty still to play for.