Sailing: No escape from the heat or the pack

Grant Dalton, the skipper of Amer Sports One, faces up to intense competition on the fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race
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The Independent Online

It's bloody hot, there are boats all around us looking for every inch of advantage, and twice in the last few hours we have seen a stack of work, put into catching up a fair bit, dumped by rain squalls. We have had two bad ones in the last two watches. They are always a big issue on this leg.

It's bloody hot, there are boats all around us looking for every inch of advantage, and twice in the last few hours we have seen a stack of work, put into catching up a fair bit, dumped by rain squalls. We have had two bad ones in the last two watches. They are always a big issue on this leg.

We are into tight racing as usual, nothing new there, and any break probably won't be made until we are round the top left-hand corner of Brazil at Recife, 400 miles away. That's how it was last time, where there was a difference of opinion on how to deal with the trade winds on the other side of the equator.

We had a good start, not least because the spectator boats behaved in a more orderly fashion than in São Sebastio four years ago, when I thought I was going to die. Now we are into a pace race. I think we may not come into our own until after we go round the corner and even across the equator, where we may be able to power up a little more.

At the moment we are only OK, and the Farr boats seem a click quicker all the time than we are with our Mani Frers design or the Lawrie Davidson-designed djuice.

That may sound the same as when we were in the Southern Ocean, but there is a real contrast because of the heat. Down there a 15-knot breeze had some power in it; up here it is thinner, more soggy, less powerful. Down there we were trying to pile in the calories with hot food and drinks. Up here it is difficult to sleep below during the day as it is so hot, and running the generator for electricity and water, which meant we could warm our numb hands, is something to get as far away from as possible.

It takes a couple of days to adjust from life on land to life at sea and the pace at which the racing is run means there is no gentle transition. We know we have to drink a lot to avoid dehydration and headaches are an early warning of that, but we are all adapted now. You can escape cold, but you cannot escape heat, but, overall, I would prefer the heat even if you are lying in a plastic mesh bunk almost floating in sweat.

The game now is to hang in there until we can look for a break going up though the Caribbean. Everyone is watching everyone else hawk-eyed, and there is so much weather information available these days that it is difficult to pick up something others have not seen.

But the models for this part of the world are also notoriously unreliable, so we have the navigator, Roger Nilson, and the tactician, Dee Smith, hard at it all the time below while the on-deck boys concentrate on even the slightest improvement in boat speed.

There had been no great expectations of Rio as a stopover, it had been considered as pretty marginal. But Rio really worked. The people at Volvo and the organisers in the city did a hell of a job. You can't do anything about the oppressive heat, but all the bits to do with immigration and customs worked; getting the boats out to do the refits and repairs worked very, very well, and I wasn't expecting that.

It would be really good to see a Brazilian boat in the race. After all, they have a terrific Olympic record in terms of winning medals in the sailing events. They know how to sail, even though the country is consumed with football. There is certainly some talk about it and it would not be difficult to get people motivated. It could be big, very big. We shall have to see what format will be adopted for the next race after all the talking and research.

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