Sailing: Some risks make the boat bite back

Grant Dalton, the skipper of Amer Sports One, faces some difficult decisions on the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race
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The Independent Online

We are sitting here in a breeze so light that we are almost becalmed, but we know that the big punch of the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties will come soon. It is so near we can almost see it and when it comes we will be on a helter-skelter that will last for over a week, carry us nearly half of the 6,500 miles of this second leg from Cape Town to Sydney. Even then it still will leave us with almost a new race starting off the south-west corner of Australia.

At 41.50 South things are still warm, though they have been rough enough since the start on Sunday to cause me my first up-and- under in 12 years, and even that ocean racing legend, my navigator Roger Nilson, had a bit of a spit. Going upwind against the current into 37 knots had a lot of us saying: "Hello, we've been here before." But we are all eating again now, and that is important.

We were one of the first in at the end of a long opening leg and even we have struggled to recover. We worked hard at it, trying to make sure that we ate all the right things, trying to make sure that, even though there was a lot of work to do, we also took some rest. Still, I started more tired than I would have wanted, not least because of having to rush back to New Zealand to greet my new daughter, Olivia Anne, into the world a little earlier than expected.

We are still recovering and there are a few boats out there which had a lot less time than we did. They might have started again, pumped up with adrenalin and testosterone, but they could crash in the space of just one, six-hour, report schedule.

We felt we had the right clothes and food for the first leg, whereas others had problems with both warmth and calorie intake, and we are pretty sure we have it right for this second leg. Right now, at 41.50 South, it is still pretty warm, but we will be down at Prince Edward Island and 47 South in three days, and at the Kerguelen Islands, 49.50 South, in about a week.

By then it will be very cold. By then we will have pushed through this temporary obstacle of the ridge of high pressure and will be able to turn more and more east as well as south, first reaching, then running, then heavy running.

Of course, we are all a little bit anxious that no one makes a leg-winning break, but not overly so. Assa Abloy seems to be negotiating these 24 hours well, but we can still see her. The bid by News Corp to break south does not appear to be working. It looks like they missed a favourable current of about three knots. That can be costly.

And we still have confidence in our speed. We will be careful. We want to keep the pace on, but only enough to be acceptable. Cross the line and it becomes ridiculous. If you take liberties these boats bite back.

So far we have only suffered a broken halyard. It slowed us for couple of hours, perhaps cost us five or six miles, but it is not serious and there are plenty of miles to go. The newly designed and beefed up halyard locks, both of which broke on the first leg, seem to be holding up so far. Both boat and crew are in good shape.

Once we turn at Albany, off the coast of Australia, we have, without stopping there, virtually to do a Fremantle to Sydney leg across the Great Australian Bight. That will be an altogether different problem, a separate race in its own right.

But first we have to ride the threatening rollers of the Southern Ocean. I keep saying it's like going to the dentist voluntarily and asking myself why I do it. But I wouldn't miss it for the world. It's one of the great challenges.

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