Running repairs limit damage: Grant Dalton, the leading maxi skipper in the Round the World Race, who is writing for the Independent, weathers misfortune

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The Independent Online
THIS IS a week we could have done without, but not all the best efforts of the gods have been directed against us. Five days after losing the top 10 metres of our mizzen mast we are still, incredibly, leading the maxi fleet and there are signs that the weather will also continue to co-operate.

If the forecast fresh breezes materialise we should have a fast run over the last 1500 miles to Fremantle, and that should keep us on level terms with the man chasing us, Pierre Fehlmann, in Merit Cup. The great fear is that the winds will go light and allow him to use his extra sail area to power through while we are reduced to a crawl. We have, after all, lost 25 per cent of our sail area and rather more in efficiency.

We had expected him to pass us by now, but it may be that he, too, is having to nurse his masts very carefully after suffering three knock-downs.

Our spare mizzen mast was at our Camper & Nicholson base in Gosport, near Portsmouth, but that has been cut in two and is being airfreighted to Hong Kong today. From there it goes on by air to Sydney and will then be brought by truck to West Australia.

In the meantime, the whole management of the boat has had to be reorganised to operate around the need to keep the generator going night and day in order to power the sewing machine.

Kevin Shoebridge has been leading the team in modifying sails to make them fit the 17-metre stump which we have at the back. He has had to be able to call on people to help with the sail making, and that has disrupted an already lean watch system.

I know Pierre has said that we were possibly driving too hard and this could have led to the wipe-out which toppled the mast. But the truth is that the accident occurred at a time when we had eased back considerably from the pace we had been maintaining previously.

One of the consequent downsides to running the generator is that, because we need to channel all available power to the sewing machine and the instruments and computers we use, we have had to cut down on all other things. This includes the use of the watermaker and I have even called for a ban on all lighting below decks in order to save power. Diesel is running low, but we should just scrape through.

I have already told our shore manager, Chris Cooney, to be sure to have a boat on the finish line to tow us in if we are worried about the diesel to run the main engine.

There are still some miles to go, but we are not despondent. We feel we have minimised the deficit following the damage and, before that, we have shown we can hold our own.