Sailing: Dalton's headway cut short by calm

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The Independent Online
The high-octane fifth leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race opened in cat-and-mouse mode as the fleet played hide and seek with the wind. America's Chessie Racing was leading, with Grant Dalton's Merit Cup back up into second, and Britain's Lawrie Smith third in Silk Cut as the nine yachts covered just 130 miles in the first 18 hours last night. But no one had made a break, and the only surprise was the position of the overall leader, Paul Cayard, bringing up the rear in EF Language.

Grant Dalton, the Aucklander who led the fleet into his home town, led the way out again at the start, but his pride was short-lived. After four and a half miles, as the fleet approached a turning mark buoy, the wind died and the New Zealander in Merit Cup was left struggling. But the leader's loss was the chaser's gain as Lawrie Smith, who had been squeezed to the back in water churned by boats wanting to chase the fleet along the course, sneaked Silk Cut up to third.

The smart thinkers saw what was happening and headed away from the shore to the nine to 10 knot southerly and stronger ebbing tide on the north side of the Rangitoto Channel.

They all had to come back across to the second Volvo buoy, near where the America's Cup track will be in Hauraki Gulf in 2000. Now they were led by Knut Frostad's Innovation Kvaerner, followed by the overall race leader, Paul Cayard, in EF Language, and Smith.

Off they went at a nice clip, heading for the exit to the harbour between Tiritiri Island and the mainland shore, with the hills of Coromandel in the distance, until it was Kvaerner's turn to hit the buffers. The wind had died again, and the rest of the fleet fanned into the same broad patch of calm, leaving the crews to try every combination of sail they knew.

The nerve-racking passage down the east coast of New Zealand and out into the open ocean highway to Cape Horn is likely to take a couple of days. Then the big wind is predicted to click in and the yachts are promised fast conditions for at least two to three days.

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE (6,670 nautical miles from Auckland to Sao Sebastiao): 1 Chessie Racing (US) D Smith 6543.6 nautical miles to finish; 2 Merit Cup (Mon) G Dalton 2.8 miles to leader; 3 Silk Cut (GB) L Smith 3.6; 4 Innovation Kvaerner (Nor) K Frostad 4.6; 5 Toshiba (US) P Standbridge 5.5; 6 Brunelsunergy (Neth) R Heiner 6.6; 7 Swedish Match (Swe) G Krantz 8.8; 8 EF Education (Swe) C Guillou 8.8; 9 EF Language (Swe) P Cayard 9.4.

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