Sailing: Brutal sailing as four fight to be second

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WE HAVE been in a whole new race ever since Merit Cup rounded Cape Horn and this fifth leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race has been like no other sailing contest I have ever been in.

I have raced up the east coast of South America with another yacht close by before, but not when there have been four. The racing is unbelievably tight. It is brutal sailing.

At least it means that, although we have slowed down in winds that are probably going to be light all the way, the miles still click by. All the signs are that the conditions which this boat likes will come increasingly to the fore. As skipper it will be my job to exploit them to the full.

We knew that Paul Cayard was away and gone in EF Language, but the struggle to be second instead of fifth looks as though it will go all the way to the finish in Sao Sebastiao. And there could be a joker in the pack in the form of a big, windless parking lot near the end.

By the time we reached the Horn we had recovered from what had been a really tough and tiring run through the southern ocean that left us all feeling a lot better about ourselves.

Whatever the outcome in Brazil, in our own minds we have certainly sailed much better in southern ocean conditions than we did on the second leg. We did not broach once, so we can be happy that we conquered the demon of the southern ocean. We put in a 430-mile day when I thought we might have trouble breaking 400 and we did one 117-mile stretch in six hours, which is up with the best.

The boat has also come through without any significant damage. We did break our spinnaker pole, but we don't have any problems which could slow us down, unlike some of our competitors.

This has allowed us to sail the race we like. We never could cover all four of our closest rivals and in any case it is better to be proactive rather than reactive.

We have enough food for 26 days and it still looks like the leg will take that long. Now we are in the southern Atlantic we have been able to discard smelly oilskins, thermals and wet socks for lighter clothes, even shorts. The downside is that we left behind the sun cream. The two tubes we have found did not go far.

It is amazing how this leg has turned things round for three boats. Silk Cut is probably out of it, while the challenge from Chessie Racing, after being third for two legs, has faltered.

However, we feel really sorry for the girls on EF Education. They have been a very unfortunate casualty and it may not be just for this leg. I cannot see any way they can make it to Brazil in time for the start of the next leg to Fort Lauderdale, so their dismasting could cost them two legs, not one.

They are far superior to any other women crew who have raced around the world, but have been hit hard by some bad luck that they did not deserve.

A lot of thoughts have come out of this leg, not least concerns about the race. I know some of my younger crewmen, who you would expect to be around for a few years to come, are saying they don't know if they can take another Whitbread.

I hope this will not be the last time I see Cape Horn, but the race needs to become less of a grind, more compact and perhaps even more fun.