Sailing: World record success left my nerves torn to shreds

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The Independent Online

What a week we have had out here, burning down the South Atlantic and leading the Volvo Ocean Race on the first leg from Vigo to Cape Town.

Last week when I was writing this piece, I was sitting in the nav station watching our lead of over 150 miles get whittled away as we sailed into high pressure down the Brazilian coast. But we felt it was the right place to be and would pay in the end, and it did. Our southing is now paying off big time.

We then steadily gained the lead back and over the past couple of days we have really been able to let rip. We were caught by a fast- moving front that was going to cross the South Atlantic. For around 30 hours we had some unbelievably, amazingly fast sailing, and by the end of it we were world record holders. It really has been some ride.

ABN Amro 1 is now the new holder of the 24-hour distance record for a monohull, having sailed 546 nautical miles in a day. We broke the previous record by 16 miles. I am so proud of what the guys did; the effort and the commitment that went into nailing that record in the middle of what is already a very tough leg is unreal and, to be honest, very hard to describe.

Basically we were over the moon when we finally bagged this. With the boat going full pelt, it was just awesome. The yacht was on fire and it was a delight to be part of it.

However, breaking records doesn't come without a price and that price is my sanity - flying along at between 20 to 30 knots with the boat creaking, moaning and rattling is not easy on the nerves. While we were always in control and the boat felt fantastic we were definitely on the edge.

We were treading the fine line between knowing how hard to push and keeping the boat in one piece - pull it off and you're a hero, muck it up and you have got a lot of explaining to do. Touch wood, we are on the right side of that line, but we know that still anything can happen. With these boats you just cannot take anything for granted. I am lucky to have two of the best watch captains in the world right next to me but, none the less, as skipper I am the one to say when I think we need to pull back.

As we are being pushed so hard by our "little brothers" on ABN Amro 2, we haven't had the opportunity to pull back and we are still pushing hard for Cape Town. I am incredibly proud of what the boys on Two have done on this leg. We sailed together and worked together as one team for so long, I feel like a proud father as I see them racking up the miles, forcing us to keep looking over our shoulder.

So with our two boats at the front of the pack, it is with huge relief that I think that we have been doing something right. However, this is yacht racing, and as sailors we are naturally fairly superstitious. Just to give us a reality check we hit a shark, going at 25 knots, which was not good. It brought us shuddering back to earth and showed how vulnerable we are.

But the reality is that the boats seem to be going fast in the conditions, and we think these are the conditions that are going to be important to win the Volvo Ocean Race. That can't be a bad thing.

Here's looking forward to some spicy chicken wings, a can of cold Coke and a beer, hopefully tonight if everything goes to plan.

Fingers crossed.

Mike Sanderson is writing a regular column for The Independent during the Volvo Race. Find out more at www.abnamro/team