Sailing record smashed in Volvo race

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The Independent Online

In a spectacular display of sustained power, skill and nerve, the world record for distance covered in 24 hours in a monohull sailing boat was smashed today by the crew of Ericsson 4 in the Volvo round the world race.

At 594.23 nautical miles, it was just over 30 miles more than the previous record of 562.96, set three years ago, also on the opening leg of the same race, by the crew of ABN Amro 2, skippered by Frenchman Seb Josse and which also came from the design board of Argentinian Juan Kouyoumdjian.

This time it was a Brazilian at the helm of the Swedish boat, five times Olympic medallist Torben Grael, and it was made the more remarkable as he was a man down.

New Zealander Tony Mutter had been lifted off in the Canary Islands with a heavily swollen infected knee. So Grael was down to nine men plus an embedded media man, who is, by the rules, not allowed to contribute to the sailing of the boat.

Navigating Grael into the best winds was the Isle of Wight-based Jules Salter (his brother, Guy, is that media man) and it is he who has also put the boat at the head of the fleet of eight as it streaks towards the finish of the first leg from Alicante in Cape Town.

Said Grael: “It is a great achievement but we were not really looking for it. What we were looking for was a good ride on this weather system and to stay in it as long as possible.

“We are doing 30 knots of boat speed and the wind is around 32 knots, but the waves are about eight metres and are not very good for us. Conditions are marginal.

“I think we have been pretty much on the edge. Perhaps if we had a better sea state we might be able to go faster but it is hard to go faster with waves like this.”

Grael was being chased by both the American, Kenny Read, in Puma, and Britain's double Olympic medallist Ian Walker on the Irish entry Green Dragon.

"This is insane," said Walker. "Thirty-five knots of wind, pitch black, 1,500 miles from land and we are desperately trying to squeeze more speed from a boat that feels and sounds like it is going to self-destruct any second.”

Although the Dragon has slipped to 75 miles behind the leader in third, with Puma half that behind in second, there is still the problem of the wind often dying when approaching the South African coast, something which all three are expecting to do on Sunday.