Sailing: 'Straightaway I knew it was bad'

Grant Dalton, the skipper of Amer Sports One, suffers broken ribs as his damaged boat limps into Sydney
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The Independent Online

What a way to end a race. First, we lose a crew member for nearly half the leg with a severe stomach complaint. Then I arrive in Sydney nursing suspected broken ribs after being thrown against the galley stove.

It happened as we were jumping from wave to wave in a fresh, 25-30 knot south-westerly when the boat took an extra vicious lurch. I was down below and was thrown bodily across the cabin. Straightaway I knew it was bad. I had smashed the single-burner cooking stove by the mast but it had also smashed me. The result was one, or maybe two, broken ribs and I am having to send this report on my way to hospital in Sydney. Once again our navigator/doctor, Roger Nilson, had to swing into action. I was strapped into a bunk alongside his navigation station and had to take advantage of some of the painkilling drugs which had been dropped off by the Royal Australian Air Force when they came to the aid of Keith Kilpatrick. He was eventually taken off by a fishing boat sent out to meet us.

Anyone who has had a broken rib will know just how painful it can be and it could not have come at a worse time. Tied down and unable to move, I could contribute nothing to a very important day for Amer Sports One. Roger's intention was to keep an eye on me. I was equally keen to keep an eye on what was going on in the navigation station. It didn't hurt to speak and as long as Roger or tactician Dee Smith dialled the satellite telephone number for me, I could do the talking.

Down to 10 men, I had to watch Knut Frostad's djuice slowly pull away in a race for fourth place that had become a private battle between the two boats in the last 100 miles of the 6,500-mile leg from Cape Town. The final straw was getting into a horrendous Chinese gybe which saw bodies flying everywhere, local expert Chris Nicholson in the water under the boat and any chance of beating the pink Norwegian yacht gone. We also lost our wind instruments and had to cobble together a replacement. Congratulations to Pepe Ribes for working some wizardry at the top of the mast.

This has been a brutal leg in many ways. The boat has held up well but, like many others, we have had some sail damage. Also, like many others, we paid a high price for a simple error when we chose to go south of the Kerguelen Islands. That cost us many miles. Having Keith fall ill put an extra pressure on the rest of the crew too and distracted Roger some of the time. Things like that can seriously upset the rhythm of a boat and its crew.

Not that I am blaming our final position on that. We are still learning about our German Frers Jnr boat and we always expected that we should allow at least the first three legs to pick up the pace. John Kostecki and illbruck had a head start in that department, but we share with many others the belief that he is beatable. Trouble is, the others also want to beat us and are also working flat out to sharpen their tactics, improve the power delivery from their sails, and make sure that mistakes are kept to the absolute minimum in terms of boat handling.

The rib injury means I am out of the game for several days and, to compound my frustration, I cannot even fly home to Auckland. All I can hope for is that I mend quickly enough to be on the third leg starting on Boxing Day, which takes in the Sydney to Hobart Race but ends in Auckland.

I was first across the line into my home town last time and that is something I want to do again.

Grant Dalton was talking to Stuart Alexander