Sailing: We are in a mid-pack ruck

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The Independent Online

There are just six days of Volvo Ocean racing left and, while they are unlikely to fall into the hard category, they are both tough and critical.

There are just six days of Volvo Ocean racing left and, while they are unlikely to fall into the hard category, they are both tough and critical.

They are also incredibly important. Not perhaps, for John Kostecki and illbruck, who should win without difficulty. Perhaps not quite so important for Neal McDonald, who will be difficult to dislodge from second overall in Assa Abloy. But for us, who are third, Jez Fanstone, fourth in News Corp and Kevin Shoebridge, fifth in Tyco, it is hugely important. We are in a mid-pack ruck and everyone is trying to run us down.

In a way, we have no one to blame but ourselves for our fifth on this leg. We elected to take the southerly option when leading out of Chesapeake Bay to avoid a shipping traffic separation zone and those that went north did much better. We also had sail and equipment problems, but the main thing was that we had lost positioning because we had not picked up the arrival of a new front of weather from the north.

It was missing a northerly option again later, when we could have paid a few miles to put ourselves in a much better position, that settled matters.

Unless you are bullet fast, you just cannot catch up in this race. We are not, although the leg has shown that there really isn't a lot to choose between the boats in terms of speed. It was a really fast, physical, exciting and neat Atlantic crossing.

To do that in 11 days, including sailing down the Chesapeake, is good by any standards. I am still convinced we chose the right boat when we took the Mani Frers design. We will have to see whether the Gulf Stream-aided new world record of 484 miles in 24 hours is ratified for illbruck. We were pretty pleased with our 462 miles in 24 hours outside the Stream. One of the worst aspects of an exciting leg was hearing that our stablemates on Amer Sports Too had lost their mast. We were stunned, not least because we have the same rig. Still, everything is under control and every effort is being made to ensure that Lisa McDonald and her all-woman crew are on the start line for the next leg.

A lot of people want to know, after racing six times round the world, whether my motivation has gone, especially as we were fifth on this last leg and they are looking for cracks. Today I feel really terrible about that and if I needed any indication of the answer to that question, I think the pain I feel from being beaten is so strong that the motivation cannot be weak. I knew, when we came into the race, that we had a huge, maybe impossible, task because we were so late. But we have hung in there. There are some out there who think that Tyco will pass us and deny us a podium place at the finale in Kiel.

It will be interesting to see if the addition of my old navigator, Mike Quilter, makes any difference. Maybe they feel it is time for the old campaigners to move over. But Tyco are not going to beat us without a fight. There is a sense of solidarity in the crew that is one of the best I have ever seen. When we arrived in La Rochelle, the shore crew could not wait to get to work on the boat, even though it was 10 o'clock at night. Take Michael Schumacher. He does not need the money any more, but he just loves to win. To those who say I am just doing it for the money, I can assure you that I would give all the money back from this campaign if I could be elevated to first place.

Grant Dalton was talking to Stuart Alexander in La Rochelle after finishing fifth in Amer Sports One on the seventh leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from Annapolis.