Sailing: Cluster of Kiwis line up for the final fling: Grant Dalton, skipper of New Zealand Endeavour in the Whitbread Round the World Race, reports from off the Scilly Isles as the finish draws near

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The Independent Online
WE ARE in the race of our lives. We should have no problems about being the fastest boat around the world in the Whitbread Race, and that was always our priority. We should also have the maxi-class trophy sewn up, but right now that's not what matters. What matters is the nerve-tingling final 24 hours into Southampton, with everything as close, if not closer, than the fantastic finish we had in Auckland at the end of the third leg. We want to win again.

We should be tied up in Southampton tonight, nearly four days faster than the record for this sixth and final leg, set last time by Peter Blake. That is over 20 per cent faster, a huge jump in performance. That the W60s should have achieved it is a sign of how fast these new boats are. That the maxis should have kept up is just as phenomenal.

The last leg has flashed by and as I write there is only a mile separating the first three yachts - ourselves, Chris Dickson's Tokio and Ross Field's Yamaha.

Next astern is Billy Butterworth in Dennis Conner's Winston, so our Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, who is expected to be in Southampton, should have the satisfaction of seeing the first four boats skippered by Kiwis.

It could go to any one of us and at the moment we have both Tokio and Yamaha in sight as we approach the Scillies. We are blast-reaching at nearly 15 knots, but the 60s are going away from us and will be quicker if the breeze keeps up as forecast.

Yet again this means that the whole crew is up on deck most of the time, while my navigator, Mike Quilter, keeps a watch on the opposition, the weather and the tides as we surge up the English Channel.

Knowing that the all- woman crew on Heineken has again been hit by a rudder failure makes us all realise that disaster can strike at any time. It is the third time that they have had rudder damage, but we do not know if this latest incident, about 600 miles from the Scillies, is related to the other two.

Fortunately they have everything under control and, despite the forecast for strong breezes over the weekend, should be in no danger. They were offered standby help from Eugene Platon on Hetman Sahaidachny, but waved him on, although they are having to wait for 30-knot winds to soften before attempting to rig some sort of makeshift rudder.

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