Volvo Ocean Race: Two years' work comes down to a six-day sprint

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The Independent Online

After a two-year campaign and a nine-month marathon race around the world, 22 per cent of the total points are still up for grabs in what is probably going to be just six days of sailing.

After a two-year campaign and a nine-month marathon race around the world, 22 per cent of the total points are still up for grabs in what is probably going to be just six days of sailing.

This penultimate leg of the race (the eighth, I think, though I have almost forgotten how many we have done) is an 1,150-mile dash through some very challenging waters.

The tension is building and so is the breeze being forecast. The only way to describe what we face between here in La Rochelle and the finish in Gothenburg is a navigator's nightmare – rocky headlands, any number of islands and shallows, raging currents, busy shipping lanes, narrow straits and numerous oil rigs dotted around the North Sea. Rudi (Mark Rudiger, our navigator) has worked non-stop throughout this stopover gathering all his data. A huge job and one that has no short cuts.

We are still eight points behind illbruck and are realistic about our chances of catching them; we have to average better than four places ahead of them in the last two legs – and that's a tall order considering just how impressive they have been. But we will stick to our plan – never, ever give up.

Ours is a strange sport and strange things happen at sea. We intend to push right to the end, and if the opportunity arises to take some points off illbruck we have given ourselves every chance to do so.

Another busy but successful stopover in La Rochelle has seen our boys in the gym every morning, the boat totally taken apart, new sails tuned up and measured in and every possible avenue of increasing our chances explored.

It is going to be a hard leg, – lots of sail changes, probably lots of place changes and lots of difficult situations.

Team morale is at an all- time high. Being beaten across the Atlantic by illbruck was a disappointment, but we were pleased how we did compared to the rest of the fleet, and it certainly gave us a bit more breathing space.

More important to me was the general feeling in the team – sailing crew, shore team and sponsors – that they all still have the energy and drive to get the best out of what we have. A race like this is a long, hard slog and it is all too easy to start looking forward to the end. The feeling I get is that we are all more motivated than ever and even disappointed that this hell-raising and intense race is nearing an end.

One further incentive to us is that the next leg to Gothenburg is taking the boat home; the team were based there before the race and sail under the Swedish flag. Assa Abloy has had a huge presence at all the stopovers, but I have no doubt that our welcome into Gothenburg will be special.

There will, however, be onesmall conflict once we arrive in Gothenburg. Days after we get in, Sweden will be playing England in the World Cup – I'm not sure what the party line will be, but I know I for one will be hoping like hell that the English boys give them a good thrashing!

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