Sailing: My mistake, their superb recovery

Volvo Ocean Race: Opening gambit for the new skipper goes awry, but then the team take off
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The Independent Online

Here we are, six days into the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race around the world the race and the mighty Assa Abloy is holding on to a very tenuous lead. The racing is extremely close and despite the fact we can't see the enemy, we all know exactly how each other is doing as we get a position report every six hours.

There is a long way to go to Sydney and we should not read too much into the positions right now but I am certainly very pleased and proud that our team are right up there giving everyone a run for their money.

As expected the leg got off to a slow and frustrating start in Cape Town on Sunday and shortly into it I managed to guide us into a massive windless hole under a headland on the way down the South African coast – not very smart on my first day's racing as skipper – and as I watched all the fleet sail away from us I had the sort of sinking feeling that I have not had for a long time.

But despite all that, one gale later, and after some smart sail changes and excellent crew work and very impressive positioning by our navigator, Mark Rudiger, we had worked ourselves up the leader board.

All though we have not seen any real treacherous Southern Ocean conditions – yet – the fleet have not been without casualties. Tyco has had to return to South Africa with a damaged rudder and illbruck had a really bad problem very early on in the race. They were forced to stop sailing and bail out the bow of the boat as it had huge amounts of water in it.

We got away reasonably OK until a couple of days ago when a huge wave washed one of our helmsmen, Hervé Jan, clear through the wheel. As any one who knows this hard man of Brittany would expect, the wheel came off worse – there was not even a small scratch on the man himself. The carbon wheel had to be removed and taken down below. Boat builder Jason Carrington had to spend a whole day repairing it. Although we have another one, steering to leeward became difficult and we took it easy in case we damaged our other wheel. We continued for 12 hours or so with the foot a bit off the gas, but when you do that the fleet mows you down immediately.

I still cannot believe how cool and calculated "Rudi" (Rudiger, in case you didn't guess) is when we read through the position reports. I am nearly crying for every mile lost or jumping up and down with joy for every one gained.

Listening to Rudi as he reads, it is like he is already thinking about how to use our advantage and planning the next move. Nerves of steel – that's certainly not me. I've already had more sleepless nights in six days at sea than I can ever remember.

Icebergs, gear breaking, have we got the right sails up, is every one wearing their harnesses, and where are the enemy? All this and more rushing through my mind – it's hard to stay cool despite the temperature outside.

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