Staying in touch is what matters now

Amer Sports One made a flying start to the Volvo Ocean Race but now skipper Grant Dalton must learn how best to handle the boat ... and he wants words with a certain sail lock maker

We had a great start. There is some wet and bouncy stuff on the horizon, there are a few things I want to say to one of our equipment manufacturers, but, after the first 48 hours of the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race the mood on Amer Sports One is upbeat.

We had a great start. There is some wet and bouncy stuff on the horizon, there are a few things I want to say to one of our equipment manufacturers, but, after the first 48 hours of the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race the mood on Amer Sports One is upbeat.

Southampton gave us a great send-off and we had more than our fair share of luck. Others suffered from having their wind blanketed by big spectator boats or being rolled around by the wash from chasing power boats. However, we had clear air most of the way and popped out first, but that means we still want to see how we stack up against the opposition in more settled conditions.

We were happy. But then, it went quite light and we had always been worried that having chosen a big, powerful hull, we might look a bit sticky in such winds. The weather analysis had told us that there should only be six or seven days in the whole race when we would be light air running, yet here we were going into our worst point of sail on the first night. Moreover, there could be similar conditions after we have crossed the Bay of Certain Death, better known as the Bay of Biscay, as we run down Portugal and then past the Azores.

Well, perhaps we got a bit lucky, or perhaps we had underestimated the performance of our boat, but we have hung in there pretty well. We liked the look of Jez Fanstone's News Corp at one time, when they were looking quick with a spinnaker made of a material called Cuben Fibre. And we think Knut Frostad's djuice, designed by Laurie Davidson and the only other non-Bruce Farr boat in the fleet, looks faster than expected. It has been interesting to see that two of the boats with the most radical navigators, Marcel van Triest on SEB and Jean-Yves Bernot on djuice, made opposite calls and neither has gained much of a break from it.

Right now we are going upwind into a south-westerly which will increase in strength, so we are going to have not only a bumpy, but a wet ride in the next day or so. We think it might go as high as 30 knots, so it is going to be a real shake-out. But we are confident of the boat's performance in such conditions.

We have sailed them before, though not for an extended time. That was as part of the tune-up comparisons with the second boat in the Nautor Challenge syndicate, Amer Sports Too, which is designed by Bruce Farr and being raced by the all-woman team skippered by Lisa McDonald. We think our German Frers Jr-designed boat will be on the pace.

One of the frustrations has been a bit of gear failure. There are locks to secure the head of the sails after it has been hoisted by a halyard. We had some new ones sent over from the United States, but, after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, all the air freight schedules were disrupted and they did not arrive in time to test them properly.

We have already had one of them shatter when carrying a sail called a Code Zero, which is a powerful cross between a conventional headsail and an asymmetric spinnaker. Right now we could do with carrying that sail as the breeze is about 12 to 14 knots, but just cannot risk it. The loads are such that we are pretty sure that the same design fault which caused the failure of one will cause the failure of the other. Just wait until I get my hands on those manufacturers. We cannot do any repair and will have to wait until South Africa before we can change them.

The only other slight worry at the moment is that our navigator, Roger Nilson, started the race with the remains of a cold and my other right-hand man, Bouwe Bekking, is showing signs of having caught it. Something like that can quickly run through the whole crew and we are keeping our fingers crossed that they are not related.

Of course, we realised we were going to have teething problems for the whole of this leg which will cost us time. We are still not sailing the boat well and we are making silly mistakes, sometimes in sail selection. But we also knew that we would have to approach it in such a way that we minimise the downtime and the effects of being late in our preparation.

So this is a "keep in touch leg" and then we can make sure we are in shape for the second leg from Cape Town to Sydney.

We know we have basic speed. That is always very comforting, and I am not a man who easily feels comfortable.

Grant Dalton was talking to Stuart Alexander

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