Sailing: A fight on the ocean waves

Captains' log of Britain's leading boat in the Admiral's Cup which will be decided by the fearsome Fastnet; John Merricks (left) and Ian Walker pit their Olympic dinghy skills against the big boys
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The Independent Online
Mon-Wed, 28-30 July

We arrive in Cowes, four days before the first race, and immediately start the measurement and weighing-in of our crew and our equipment. The Admiral's Cup will be fought out between seven three-boat teams, and we are racing the smallest British boat, the Mumm 36 Bradamante.

Rumours sweep around the dockside at this time about who has measured in what and whether anybody has come up with anything special that would give them an edge, particularly in the offshore races.

The British team get together on the evening before the first race to discuss starting strategies and the likely weather patterns for the following day.

Thursday, 31 July

WE meet at 0830 on the morning of the first day to go over the weather forecast one last time. For us the first day is crucial. We need to get clean off the starting line with no collisions or penalties to allow us to get into the race and check our pace against the other Mumm 36s.

Immediate disappointment strikes as the start gets the better of us in the first of two races. We fail to find a clear lane and are blanketed by the bigger boats. We are actually last at one stage but the boat pulls us through and we eventually finish second. At this point we think to ourselves: "We're on the pace. If we sail well we can win the Mumm class."

This was underlined by a win in the second race which we lead from start to finish. However, we discover the hard way that the lead is not always the best place to be in an Admiral's Cup yacht race: we go round the last mark the wrong way - there was some confusion over exactly what the course was - and when we get back ashore it looks for a time as if we might have all of our points for the race taken away by the jury. Eventually we are penalised one place.

Friday, 1 August

OUR first taste of offshore racing: the Channel Race, 180 miles from the Solent out into the English Channel.

We have never sailed in the dark before and wonder how much that will cost us against opposition with far more experience. Once again we lead the Mumm 36 fleet out of the Solent. We are also tactically sound but we rip a spinnaker on the first reach which lets Jameson through and, even offshore, if you give competition of this calibre that kind of chance, it's nearly impossible to get it back.

We eventually finish third, which puts us in the overall lead of the class. It boosts our confidence and secures vital points for the team, who are lying an encouraging second of seven teams. We know we are on the pace.

We really enjoy the race because it is close and it is a challenge - particularly in the dark when we have a tacking duel for the lead with the New Zealand boat. The hardest thing is going below to relax and switch off to get some rest. It's something we are going to have to deal with over the next few days in the 600-mile Fastnet Race.

Mon-Tues, 4-5 August

THE second week of racing with four windward-leeward races is much more what we are accustomed to with our Olympic sailing. Funnily enough we are unable to convert our experience into results. We lead three of the four races in Christchurch Bay but are able to convert only one of those into a win.

The wind is up and we experience our first ever wipe-out, rolling and capsizing the boat while we are leading a race. The boat is laid flat on the water for long enough to let the entire fleet stream past us, but the experience merely makes us more hungry. Our skills at this type of racing and a crew fired up by the disaster enable us to reel in four boats and pull back to third place by the end of the race.

We would still be leading the class overall but for getting embroiled in a protest with the Italian team. We were on the outside of a dangerous sandwich and the the Italian boat was caught in the middle. In our opinion the protest is unjustified but the jury find in favour of the Italians, and we are dropped to second overall.

Thursday, 7 August

We do well to hold on to that second in the inshore distance race. The very light and fluky winds turn the fleet inside out on several occasions, but we are lucky that although we finish fourth, our main opposition is behind us.

Saturday, 9 August

AS we set off on the Fastnet Race we are happy to be in with a chance of winning our class - we are second behind the Americans in Jameson - although, disappointingly, the team are just one place off the bottom in sixth. With the experience of David Howlett on navigation - he has done this race seven times before - and a crew who will sit on the side of the boat for four or five days if necessary, we feel we are hungry to tie this one up.

A lot of people have been saying that we've never done this sort of thing before and that we'll never do well if we don't serve our time. We reckon with the balance of people we have on the boat, we can take them on and tough it out. We will just not worry about not having any sleep, much food or being cold and wet for four or five days.

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