Sailing: Crews steeled for battle

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CAT AND MOUSE rather than survival has been the name of the game over the first 1,500 miles of the third leg of the British Steel Challenge from Hobart, Tasmania, to Cape Town.

Although there is 100 miles between the first and last boats, positions can change quickly and the mood of the amatuer crews taking part is summed up by Andy Hindley on the fourth-placed Hofbrau as 'like a set of day races around the cans (buoys). Some days you win a mile or two, others you lose. Each chat show (the yachts report their positions to the duty yacht twice a day and all listen in) marks a start and finish gun.'

A favourable wind direction has enabled the fleet of 10 to make fast progress, three averaging over nine knots for a 24-hour run and the rest in the high eights. Latest estimate for the first arrival in Cape Town is 18 March.

Alain Gautier is passing the far north-east tip of Brazil on his way back to Les Sables d'Olonne and has less than 4,000 miles to go to the finish of the Vendee Globe single-handed non-stop round the world race. He is 92 days into the solo circumnavigation in his 60ft yacht, Bagages Superior, leaving him 17 to beat the record for a single-hander of 109 days, eight hours, 48 minutes, set by his fellow Frenchman, Titouan Lamazou.

He is more than 600 miles ahead of second-placed Philippe Poupon, in Fleury Michon, with Jean-Luc van den Heede, in G Sofap Helvim, a further 200 miles astern.

Gautier must be in by 12 March to beat the record but he may not hold it long. Poupon, while not winning the race, could set a new record because he went back for repairs after the start on 22 November and restarted five days later.

BRITISH STEEL CHALLENGE: Second leg (Hobart to Cape Town): Positions, with miles to the finish: 1 Group 4 3,878; 2 Commercial Union 3,899; 3 Nuclear Electric 3,906; 4 Hofbrau 3,916; 5 Rhone-Poulenc 3,918; 6 Heath Insured, 3,931; 7 Coopers & Lybrand 3,934; 8 British Steel II 3,942; 9 Interspray 3,967; 10 Pride of Teesside 3,975. Information supplied by BT.