Sometime today the leaders of the Volvo Ocean Race will round Eclipse Island off the south-west corner of Australia and head back south for the difficult phase across the bottom of Australia and on towards the denouement of this eventful second leg. Predicting who will be first to reach Eclipse is virtually impossible, such has been the intensity of competition through the Southern Ocean.
Records fell in the deep south when dJuice hit 404 miles in 24 hours and then News Corp upped the ante to 451.2 miles, a new round-the- world race record and just 15.5 miles short of the outright monohull world record; News Corp's helmsmen, Gordon Maguire, Ian Walker, Geoff Scott and Steve Cotton, were "raving" about how much better this new breed of Volvo 60s handles in the big winds than the boats of four years ago. And all but two of the boats have led at some stage.
Last night just eight miles separated the first five boats as the winds eased, the temperature rose and they emerged from the Southern Ocean for a short respite. Illbruck was leading Assa Abloy, News Corp, SEB and dJuice Dragons, and while the leg-one winners, Illbruck – who tore through the fleet after an emergency bailing operation on the first night – would be favourites to get there first, with a ridge of high pressure ahead and light and variable winds off the coast of Australia, the next few days are likely to shuffle the pack and perhaps provide the first opportunity for a decisive break.
But although the racing has been compelling, it has been overshadowed by medical problems on board Grant Dalton's Amer Sports One that have shown the connection bitter sporting rivals share in the face of adversity. Keith Kilpatrick, who has been confined to his bunk on a drip since Tuesday, will be thankful that his navigator, Roger Nilson, is a doctor. Kilpatrick began suffering from acute abdominal pains when Amer Sports One was more than 1,500 miles from land. The situation became so severe that the Australian Air Force made a sortie on Thursday to drop medical supplies.
With Kilpatrick in a lower bunk and the drip suspended from a bunk above, Amer Sports One has been racing –towards land and yesterday a fast fishing boat left Fremantle to pick Kilpatrick up.
"For those who couldn't care less about who wins or loses – or for sailing either for that matter – they can relate to a real life human drama at the bottom of the world, which I know will have a happy ending," said Dalton.
"Keith is constantly monitored and when Roger sleeps, which is not often, the boys check him constantly. Maybe there are better places he could be right now but I can guarantee you he would never get more attention than we are giving him – brothers in arms and all that stuff."
And Dalton's rivals had messages for Kilpatrick too. "Hang in there, Keith. Cuter nurses are not far away," wrote Assa Abloy's navigator, Mark Rudiger.Reuse content