Sailing: Time for us to turn up the heat

Rio is great, but a little too hot for an northern European like me – I am melting. It is only a few weeks since we were all screaming along on the edge of control dodging icebergs, but these surroundings have helped the recollections of the bad times from the Southern Ocean fade into the past and made the good ones seem better. Sailors have short memories; I am almost looking forward to the first cold night at sea – though it might be some way ahead.

Rio is great, but a little too hot for an northern European like me – I am melting. It is only a few weeks since we were all screaming along on the edge of control dodging icebergs, but these surroundings have helped the recollections of the bad times from the Southern Ocean fade into the past and made the good ones seem better. Sailors have short memories; I am almost looking forward to the first cold night at sea – though it might be some way ahead.

I am writing this the day before the start of the fifth leg up to Miami, and we are ready for the off. Despite the boat finishing the last leg from Auckland here three weeks ago in great shape, the usual list of pre-leg checks have had to be made.

As the race goes on it has become more and more obvious that making sure no major breakdowns occur will have a large effect on the overall outcome. At each stopover the boats are stripped down and each component is checked and double-checked. Yet again our shore team have done a terrific job in getting Assa Abloy back together in good time and we have had ample opportunity to go out and test new sails.

We have four new sails – one we developed specifically for this leg. Testing suggests they work well and we are hopeful that we will encounter plenty of the conditions that will allow us to use the new one.

We have had two planned crew changes here. Chris Larson has made a welcome return – we won the last leg he did on the boat, so we hope he keeps his impressive record going in the coming legs. Jason Carrington is also making a comeback after missing the last leg due to illness. He has made a great recovery and is raring to go. Unfortunately we have had to make one unplanned change. Guillermo Altadill has had more family illness and has had to stand down, so we have brought in Mikey Howard, a very experienced sailor who will be a great benefit. He is a huge man, strong as an ox, and someone who will bring a tremendous amount to our campaign.

Rio, for me, marks a turning point in the Volvo race. Not only are we nearly halfway through points-wise, but it is where I see the race changing from basically an offshore to an inshore type race. So we haveselected a different sail wardrobe from the previous legs. We are allowed to take 16 sails on each leg and this time our emphasis is much more on light-wind equipment.

We also change the amount of spares we take with us – from now on it is the absolute minimum, next to nothing. Even the way we store the gear on board is changing. We are looking for more bow-down rather than stern-down trim to go better in the lighter breezes.

Leg five has plenty of challenges to offer. Hot, sticky and lightish airs with occasional storm clouds to deal with until we reach the doldrums, where we will encounter very little wind and hellish heat. Once through there I hope there will be some nice trade-wind sailing up to Miami. It is by no means an easy leg, if not the "full metal jacket" stuff we have gone through. It will be full of sail changes and difficult tactical decisions – no, it is not an easy leg.

We are currently in third place but the points are still very close; illbruck has a lead that the fleet needs to break down but with five legs still to go they are still catchable. There's lots of fun still to be had. So keep an eye on the position reports during this leg – it's going to be an interesting one.

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