Sailing: Stand by for southern discomfort

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The Independent Online

Just days left in the countdown to the start of the third leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, and all is well in the Assa Abloy camp. The crew and shore teams have both had an efficient and productive stopover. The boat and the rig have been completely taken apart, every component has been inspected and replacements have been made where necessary. The crew have been able to take some time out and to allow their minds and bodies the necessary rest to recover from the thrashing we all received on the long and ultimately frustrating battle through the Southern Ocean.

We have had enough time back on the water to check out some new sails, to make sure that everything has gone back together OK and to give the boat a good shakedown. Our precious racer looks and feels great again.

The new sails we have selected came out well, and we are just about ready to get back stuck into it again. After a few small finishing jobs have been completed and the boat packed, most of the boys should be able to have Christmas Eve and Day free.

Then to the start on Boxing Day, where a different format awaits us as we take part in the famous Sydney-to-Hobart race on our way to Auckland. It has the reputation of being one of the toughest offshore races in the world. It crosses Bass Strait, which always throws some pretty wild weather into the mix. I have done several Hobarts, and each has provided some of the windiest and roughest conditions I have ever experienced – one presented the worst that I have ever encountered, even in the Southern Ocean.

The big difference this time is that once we have finished this particularly harsh "sprint" we have a three-and-a-half-hour pit-stop in Hobart, where we are not even allowed to go ashore. What a letdown. We will spend the time talking to the media and preparing the boat for the race to Auckland. During the pit stop we are not allowed any outside assistance, including getting more food or spare equipment. Then we resume the leg in the same order, with the same separation time as we finished the first part from Sydney to Hobart. A new concept for all of us and, I expect, a rather hard one.

At this stage we have a team of experts, including our navigator, Mark Rudiger, and our new tactician, Chris Larson, looking at the weather predictions every day. As yet this looks like it will be no different to most Hobarts – wet, windy and wild. We will probably leave Sydney on a warm, sunny day, but within a day or so we will find ourselves in the middle of the Bass Strait in the cold and bashing into steep and very uncomfortable waves.

Making sure we don't burn out too much in our sprint down to Hobart will be an important issue. We also need to make sure that we don't push the boat so hard that we break it or impair the performance for the later part of the leg – the far longer portion to Auckland.

On the other side of the coin, getting to Hobart at the top of the fleet is also important, as an hour lead there could easily turn into several hours later. It will be a hard call, but just one of the many we face on this leg.

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