Sailing: Danger of flying fish in heat of the night: Grant Dalton, skipper of the maxi in second place, continues his captain's log from the tropics on the penultimate leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race

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The Independent Online
WE HAVE had everything: teeming rain, the boat stopped in the water and having to cope with structural problems in the hull. The frustrations of this leg continued as we ended up too far east when we had to run off wherever the wind took us while we repaired a delaminated hull.

Then we came round the corner at the top of South America, where, along with others, we were way too far west. But, while it looked at one stage as if we were going to take a major bath stuck in the Doldrums, we escaped.

Yamaha and Merit Cup have wriggled away, and Yamaha, in particular, could take a major bite out of the lead of about 18 hours we had over them in our bid to be the fastest boat around the world in either class, maxi or W60. At least that will add spice to the transatlantic last leg.

Whatever else, what a difference it makes to be sailing in the tropics. We can go on deck at midnight in a T-shirt and shorts and the greatest hazard is the possibility of being hit by a flying fish.

The last leg had its fair share of the wet and miserable, when we had to wear many layers of clothing, none of which was ever dry. The number of layers was a hassle, as it could take up to 15 minutes to get dressed.

Here, you just have to roll out of your bunk, perhaps put on some shoes, and you are ready to go. When you do need protection is during the day, from the sun. You can simply fry on the noon-to-4pm watch and the deck can be so hot that you cannot walk on it in bare feet. In addition, there is considerable glare - from above, from the boat and from the reflected light off the sea.

So we coat ourselves in factor 99 sun-block, with an allowance of about half a litre per man for the leg. A hat to ward off headaches, sunnies to reduce glare and a change from the heat-absorbing, dark blue NZE shirts to reflective white are all part of the programme.

One of the other problems is that it is almost impossible to arrange cold drinks. With the sea temperature at up to 24C, the water made by our desalination plant is not much cooler. So we get through a lot, made more interesting by something called Replace. It is in powder form and there is just one flavour, orange. The food is still rehydrated freeze-dried, though people eat less, and the temperature also means there are no treats like chocolate.

Down below there are just four small fans, one for each of the resting watch, as a lack of ventilation can make sleeping, even in the light sheets which have replaced sleeping bags, more difficult. The standby watch cope for themselves and hover between being quiet, because everyone may be concentrating so hard, and being much more chatty than usual, because the atmosphere is more enjoyable.

We had catered for 25 days of food with emergency back-up, though this leg could take closer to 26 days than the 21 we would have liked.

We rinse both ourselves and our clothes with a bucket of sea water. We sometimes moan about the heat, but it is much better than the cold. We still want to win the Heineken Leg Trophy in the maxis, our fourth in five legs, but we know also that waiting for us in Fort Lauderdale are some chilling examples of the sponsor's Heineken and our own Steinlager products. Roll on Florida.