Piling through the Southern Ocean at 49 degrees south and playing the vicious breezes which stream off Antarctica, Smith and his 11 crew in Silk Cut covered 449.26 miles in the 24 hours from 08.21 GMT on Wednesday to 08.20 GMT yesterday, an average of 18.7 knots. It was a tantalising 0.74 miles below the magic breakthrough of 450 miles in a day, but it restored to Smith a title he won in the 1993 race, when he covered 428.8 miles to establish a world monohull record on the same leg of the race in Intrum Justitia.
That was taken away from him by Chris Dickson in July, when he recorded 434.4 miles crossing the Atlantic in Toshiba. The nearly 15 miles extra gives Smith and crew of the Whitbread 60 Silk Cut not just a new record, but a boost to morale as they try to improve on their fifth position on the second leg from Cape Town to Fremantle, West Australia.
Silk Cut's navigator, Steve Hayles, was almost laid back. "What's more fun," he asked. "catching another boat or breaking a world record. At the moment we are doing both. We had to push as hard as we could knowing that this was a critical point. Things were going well and we set off at 400 miles a day pace. The average wind speed was well over 30 knots and we were struggling to hang on to our full size kite."
Hayles paid tribute to a crewman, Neil Graham, for the way he trimmed the spinnaker to allow the boat to pick up each successive wave, rather than ploughing in to the one in front. Even so, "we were broaching a little more often than we would like - (no one likes broaching and it can be boat-threatening) - so the decision came for a smaller kite to be set up."
The wind gods, said Hayles, came up trumps again and the spinnaker was perfect. But he also reminded himself that he was racing against eight other boats. Silk Cut is chasing Paul Cayard in EF Language and has reduced the deficit from 70 to 38 miles. If Smith, who left EF to join Silk Cut, can beat first leg winner Cayard into Fremantle, he will reduce the points deficit from 55 to 29. Cayard has broken both spinnaker poles, sails, and various bits of other gear. The remaining 1,600 miles will be hard fought.
WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE (second leg, 4,600 miles, Cape Town to Fremantle): Latest positions: 1 Swedish Match (Swe) G Krantz 1,106 miles to finish; 2 Innovation Kvaerner (Nor) K Frostad 268 miles behind; 3 Toshiba (US) P Standbridge 367; 4 EF Language (Swe) P Cayard 543; 5 Silk Cut (GB) L Smith 582; 6 Chessie Racing (US) M Fischer 688; 7 Merit Cup (Monaco) G Dalton 870; 8 EF Education (Swe) C Guillou 908; 9 Brunel Sunergy (Neth) H Bouscholte 948.Reuse content