World records fell yesterday as the Double Dutch marauders put pedal to the metal on the charge for home in the Volvo Race. Mike Sanderson's ABN Amro 1 went through 543 miles in 24 hours and was still climbing as he charged at full pelt south and eastwards, while his supposed junior partners on ABN 2, skippered by Sébastien Josse, hit 537 miles, both beating the record of 530 miles, set by Bouwe Bekking on another Volvo 70-footer, movistar.
That is an average of over 22 knots for every one of the 24 hours, three times the speed of the average cruising yacht at its best in the Solent. Sanderson held the record before, when he was in charge of the 140ft Mari Cha IV and notched up 525 miles when crossing the Atlantic in October 2003.
The leading quartet has hooked into the westerly winds at the bottom of the hike south, parallel to the coast of South America, and Sanderson should, if present form continues, be able to sit down to breakfast under Table Mountain on Thursday morning.
For a short time, he had relinquished the lead to Torben Grael on Brasil 1 as Grael's navigator, Adrienne Cahalan, the only woman in a combined crew roster of 70 on the seven boats which left north-west Spain over a fortnight ago, made gains on a more easterly track.
But Sanderson, his navigator Stan Honey, and pre-race stategist Mike Quilter, had been convinced a more westerly dig south would deliver and they were right. Only a wind hole trap at the end could stop Sanderson adding seven points to the 3.5 he picked up for being first past the stage gate off north-east Brazil.
"It's rock and roll out here again," said Sanderson. "We stuck to our guns even though we had to watch our lead evaporate. But it has paid off. The 'young fellas', as we call them on ABN 2, are pushing the hardest, but the boys are all good, the sun is out and the wind is lovely."
Grael was 114 miles adrift in third, Neal McDonald fourth, 139 mile astern in Ericsson, and Grant Wharington's Melbourne-based Brunel Sunergy fifth, 1,200 miles behind. Meanwhile the Disney-backed boat, The Black Pearl, which is also a promotional tool for the launch next July of Pirates of the Caribbean 2, starring Johnny Depp, has imposed an almost total news blackout after retiring damaged from the leg after less than 24 hours.
It was due to be shipped from Lisbon to Cape Town to complete major repairs last Friday. No decision on whether to do the same with movistar has been announced.