Sailing: Destination Rio for steely challengers

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THE 10 yachts in the British Steel Challenge round-the-world race were making comfortable progress on the first leg from Southampton to Rio last night, led by Ian MacGillivray, in Pride of Teesside.

The other nine identical 67ft yachts were strung out behind him with Richard Tudor, in British Steel II, five miles adrift in second place. Will Sutherland, in Commercial Union, was in last place, 43 miles behind the leader.

MacGillivray is holding a central course as he crosses the Bay of Biscay and his lead could be threatened by both Tudor and Pete Goss to the west of him if, as forecast, the wind shifts to the right. The first 24 hours had been easy in sailing terms, though the crews had taken at least that and longer to settle down emotionally.

While they moved into the watch systems, which rotate groups of four through every hour of the day and night, one crew member aboard Group 4 Securitas, wrote: 'Suddenly it was irrevocable. Here we were on one boat and there they (family and friends) were on another. They would be sleeping at home but we were cut loose from the world and on a voyage around it.'

Such is the relaxed atmosphere on board in the light conditions that the main talking point has been the number of non-aqautic birds that have decided to touch down for a rest. Tudor also reported hitting a basking shark which 'went off in a real sulk'.

BRITISH STEEL CHALLENGE First leg (Southampton to Rio de Janeiro, 5,300 miles) Positions (at 14.00 GMT yesterday with miles remaining): 1 Pride of Teesside 4,642; 2 British Steel II 4,647; 3 Hofbrau 4,661; 4= Heath Insured, Coopers & Lybrand 4,667; 6= Rhone Poulenc, Group 4 Securitas 4,671; 8 Nuclear Electric 4,675; 9 Interspray 4678; 10 Commercial Union 4,685.