Sailing: Chittenden ready for battle of wits: After surviving the rigours of rounding Cape Horn, the British Steel Challenge fleet prepares for the third leg. Stuart Alexander reports

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The Independent Online
AFTER kicking their heels for nearly six weeks, the 10 skippers and 130 crew members competing in the British Steel Challenge are making last-minute preparations in Hobart for the third leg of the race to Cape Town.

Although shorter and apparently less glamourous than the second leg around Cape Horn from Rio de Janeiro, it could be equally as dangerous and more demanding than the previous one turned out to be.

Trying once again to outwit the others will be John Chittenden in Nuclear Electric. His early break and careful conservation of a reassuring lead paid off last time and he has been studying every bit of weather information he can find going back over several years.

Most of the amateur crews paying for the experience know that they are now just over half-way home in more ways than one. After successfully completing the next 7,000 miles they can expect that the last leg to Southampton, like the first to Rio, should be relatively easy. The organisers can also trust that the risk to life and limb should all but evaporate. They are doubtless hoping that the luck which was needed to avoid considerable damage on the last leg will not be required this time.

Only one mast, on British Steel II, was broken as a result of the unusual failure of rigging screws and no one was hurt as a result of it. Five other rigging screws broke without loss or injury. A further two masts, on Hofbrau and Coopers & Lybrand, were showing extensive cracks on arrival in Hobart.

In addition, the top mast of Nuclear Electric, the winner of the second leg, was found to be kinked when the tension was eased for the mast to be removed, and there was a long crack in the keel when the boat was lifted out.

All the screws have been repaired, heavier forestays and rigging screws fitted, with British Steel II, winner of the first leg, being given a new rig. After completing 2,400 miles to New Zealand after dismasting and then covering the remaining 1,500 miles to Hobart she has also been given a finish time for sailing that second leg.

No ordinary ocean yacht race would be so forgiving.

The only penalty Richard Tudor and the crew of Interspray have picked up is over the supply of a new storm staysail, lost in the dismasting. Interspray will also have to sail round a specially chosen time-consuming penalty mark soon after the start tomorrow, for receiving a new No 1 Yankee sail.

Plans to issue new mainsails have been shelved as this ran contrary to the terms explained at the outset ie that each yacht should have one suit of sails to see them through training and the race. All have been given new staysails but those who had worked hard to look after their mains were unhappy to see the benefit of good housekeeping negated.

Where the crews have put their collective feet down firmly is on attempts to change the course for this third leg in order to keep the fleet further north, and so out of the worst of the weather and ice in the southern ocean.

So the fleet must only go north of the Kerguelen Islands as they pick their way through the shortest route to South Africa, while avoiding the roaming ice pack of Antarctica. But the option to cite safety as the reason for a late change has been kept open. It would not look good when selling seats for the next race if tough turned into terrifying this time.

During the last leg the organisers were asking skippers if they had any 'centurions' to report, that being a code for those who had decided they had had enough. As it turned out the leg was not as tough as it might have been, Cape Horn was rounded in tranquil mood, the yachts made much faster progress than expected and injuries were minor.

Just one, John Kirk on Coopers & Lybrand who aggravated an old back injury, has been advised not to continue. His replacement is Martin Wright, of Helensburgh. A local fireman, William St Leger, of Hobart, joins Nuclear Electric because a family illness has prevented Dr Andrew O'Connor from joining the yacht.

BRITISH STEEL CHALLENGE: Standings (after second leg): 1 Nuclear Electric, 80 days 20hr 6min 29sec; 2 Heath Insured, 81 09 53 26; 3 Interspray 81 17:11.55; 4 Hofbrau 81 18:33.50; 5 Group 4 82 01:19.14; 6 Pride of Teesside 82 09:59.24; 7 Coopers & Lybrand, 82 14:44.14; 8 Commercial Union 87 04:14.06; 9 Rhone-Poulenc 87 04:50.43; 10 British Steel II, 90 16:53. 26.

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