Sailing: Nuclear Electric seals second leg

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The Independent Online
THE CHEERS were more heartfelt than raucous when skipper John Chittenden took the amateur crew of Nuclear Electric across the finish line in Hobart yesterday to win the second leg of the British Steel Challenge.

Most in the Tasmanian capital were asleep when Nuclear Electric sealed her victory. Behind the crew of 12 men and a woman lay not just the remaining nine yachts. They had logged 8,912 miles of sailing through what can be some of the most dangerous and lonely of ocean passages.

Cape Horn may have been in one of its sleepier moods when they went round, but the slog across the freezing expanse of the southern Pacific, chilled by the icy Antarctic and whipped up by gales, demanded special reserves of courage and determination. But they have avoided beating too much into headwinds and have arrived a week ahead of the predicted schedule.

Chittenden, who also skippered a crew in the 1989-90 Whitbread race when one crew member died and another narrowly escaped after both were washed overboard, has seen a policy of caution and moderation pay dividends.

On this leg, which took a total of 48 days 23 hours 26 minutes and three seconds, Chittenden outsmarted all his rivals to establish an early lead going south from Rio down the eastern coast of South America. His conservative tactics and meticulous maintenance paid off as the majority of his rivals suffered gear damage.

His crewman John Nash said: 'The best bit is now, the worst a day and a half ago sitting around with no wind. When things got close we could go up another gear and we have a skipper who knows what he is doing. We took it sensibly. After all, there's still a long way to go. We're only half-way.' The Infolink Trophy prize will go towards a celebration crew dinner.

Expected second, after an estimated gap of 12 hours, is Commercial Union. The third-placed Hofbrau is being nursed along under a small try-sail after removing the mainsail and boom so as to preserve a mast cracked near the deck.

The dismasted British Steel II is in Wellington, New Zealand, fitting a new jury rig to bring her to Hobart, where she can pick up a replacement mast.

BRITISH STEEL CHALLENGE ROUND- THE-WORLD RACE: Second leg (Rio de Janeiro to Hobart): Positions (with miles to the finish): 1 Nuclear Electric finished; 2 Commercial Union 70; 3 Hofbrau 222; 4 Coopers & Lybrand 359; 5 Group 4 433; 6 Pride of Teesside 445; 7 Heath Insured 514; 8 Interspray, 627; 9 Rhone-Poulenc 1,100. Dismasted: British Steel II. (Information supplied by BT)