Sailing: Dalton's `sheer fear' of flying

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The Independent Online
GRANT DALTON yesterday spoke of his "sheer fear" of pushing Merit Cup too hard in mountainous seas as the leading yachts in the Whitbread Round the World fleet hurtled on through the treacherous Southern Ocean yesterday.

Life in the "liquid Himalayas" on the 11th day of the fifth leg from New Zealand to Brazil is proving a disquieting experience even for a seasoned yachtsman like Dalton, who had been forced to use a larger spinnaker than was sensible in the conditions in order to keep pace with third-placed Toshiba, who was at times only 200 metres away.

"This is not safe at all, the way we are sailing now, but what choice do you have?" asked the New Zealander as Merit Cup averaged 20 knots in 40 knots of wind. Two hours after the sail change and with the boat out of control, Dalton "pulled the plug" and left Toshiba to it.

"It is a matter of balancing the need to push hard but not over the top," he said. "I think my sheer fear of what could happen stops that. Ten minutes after we had set our storm spinnaker again, there was Toshiba trying to pull what was left of their spinnaker down."

The two boats racing side by side in wild seas was a dramatic scene. "As Toshiba starts to surf, the hull will come clear right back to the keel," Dalton said. "A huge plume of water rises above the topsides and the boat is hurled into the trough. I have never seen a boat look like that before."

The leg leader, EF Language, was also flying, failing by less than two miles to beat Silk Cut's 24-hour record of 449.1 miles set on the second leg.

Greg Gendell, bowman on Innovation Kvaerner, can testify to the anaesthetic effect of the cold. He did not discover the extent of a leg injury until he awoke for his next watch and found a large gash.

The contrast could not be greater for Silk Cut and EF Education. Collisions with icebergs and gear damage has left them averaging nine knots and the all-women crew of EF are fighting boredom by knitting with wool normally used for sails.

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE (fifth leg, 6,670 miles, Auckland, NZ, to Sao Sebastiao, Bra): 1 EF Language (Swe) P Cayard 3,500 miles to finish; 2 Swedish Match (Swe) G Krantz 26 miles behind; 3 Toshiba (US) P Standbridge +67; 4 Innovation Kvaerner (Nor) K Frostad +113; 5 Merit Cup (Monaco) G Dalton +119; 6 Chessie Racing (US) D Smith +128; 7 Brunel Sunergy (Neth) R Heiner +169; 8 Silk Cut (GB) L Smith +396; 9 EF Education (Swe) C Guillou +971.