Sailing: Sanderson leads field into unknown

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The Independent Online

These are hard men who have been there before, but many do not know what to expect this time. On the second leg of the round the world race, which takes them 6,400 miles from Cape Town to Melbourne and starts on Monday, they could be in for the ride of their lives.

The race leader, Mike Sanderson, has already set, in ABN Amro 1, a world record of 546 miles in 24 hours and knows the right weather pattern will deliver more. However, danger lurks all around. It will not just be the 40-foot rollers, the near constant gales, the boat-crunching threat of ice - but the boats themselves.

In the past they were built of the same material as bullet-proof jackets, Kevlar. The new Open 70s are built of lighter, stronger, but more brittle carbon fibre. Then they had one fixed keel and one rudder. Now they can have two rudders and two dagger boards, and the keels, with five-tonne lead bulbs at the bottom, can be swung from side to side.

Then they were capable of 25 knots; now the boats go over 35 knots. So when things go wrong, they go wrong in spades. Two of the seven starters on the first leg from Vigo, Spain, did not last 24 hours. The favourite, movistar, skippered by Bouwe Bekking of the Netherlands, and the Disney-backed Pirates of the Caribbean, skippered by the 1997-98 race winner, Paul Cayard, had to pull off the track with damage to the interior structure and keel canting mechanisms.

The runaway winner was Sanderson, while the crew of ABN 2 underlined these boats' superiority by coming in second.The downwind conditions of this leg will be much kinder than the upwind crashes on that first night. But what has not been fixed are the problems which the skippers do not yet know about. As the old saw goes, to finish first you first have to finish.