Sailing: Gloomy forecast leaves Merit Cup in depression

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The Independent Online
After 17 days at sea, the leaders in the Whitbread Round the World Race are approaching half-way on the first leg to Cape Town, but, as Stuart Alexander explains, the weather still shows no sign of lending the fleet a helping hand.

A favourable wind remains a pipe dream for the 10-boat Whitbread fleet, with Grant Dalton in Merit Cup forecasting a long haul upwind while heading down the coast of South America.

"We have just received a long-range forecast which has made a couple of the guys question their desire to continue living," said Dalton yesterday, as Merit Cup was reaching towards the island of Fernando Naronha. "It's going to be hard on the wind after the island and on down to the next mark, the Ilha da Trindade off southern Brazil, and beyond.

"The South Atlantic high is in the southern ocean, spinning south-east winds off the top of it, and it's forecast to stay there. This is not good."

Although Dalton's decision to switch direction early in the hope of finding a more favourable line to the Brazilian coast paid off when he regained second place from Paul Cayard's EF Language, it has doubled the distance Dalton is behind the race leader, Knut Frostad, in Kvaerner.

The Norwegian, whose 48-mile advantage will take a lot of hard work to whittle down, was beating upwind into 15 to 20 knots and big waves. "The boat is taking a serious hammering," Frostad reported, "but seems to handle it well."

Also working upwind is the British entry Silk Cut, with Lawrie Smith having established a comfort zone in fourth place, 16 miles from Mark Fischer on Chessie Racing in fifth. However, the 158 miles by which Smith trails Frostad is a big, though not impossible, challenge.

For the first time since they left the Solent on 21 September, the women's crew of EF Education, skippered by Christine Guillou, have moved off the bottom.

The last boat is now Brunel Sunergy, as Hans Bouscholte plays a cautious game after losing two feet off his rudder in a collision with a whale.

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE (First leg, 7,350 miles, Southampton to Cape Town) Latest positions: 1 Innovation Kvaerner (Nor) K Frostad 3,739 miles to finish; 2 Merit Cup (Monaco) G Dalton +48 miles; 3 EF Language (Swe) P Cayard +62; 4 Silk Cut (GB) L Smith +158; 5 Chessie Racing (US) M Fischer +174; 6 Toshiba (US) C Dickson +332; 7 America's Challenge (US) R Field +355; 8 Swedish Match (Swe) G Krantz + 378; 9 EF Education (Swe) C Guillou +543; 10 Brunel Sunergy (Neth) H Bouscholte +545.

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