Sailing: Open warfare again after Cape of secrecy

Gordon Maguire, watch leader aboard Silk Cut, sets sail again in the Whitbread
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The Independent Online
Since we arrived in Cape Town just over two week ago the atmosphere has been more like an America's Cup campaign than a Whitbread stopover. All the talk in the container park has been about spying, each syndicate desperate to find out what the others are up to.

This has centred around sails and in particular to EF's so-called "secret sail". The sail, which is basically an upwind jib, is not a secret as we helped EF develop it during our winter training in Portugal. While we have been in Cape Town both the Silk Cut and Merit Cup syndicates have spent a lot of time and money building a similar sail to keep up with EF.

Only recently we finished building one of these sails and while out testing the sail in Table Bay we had a run-in with the EF and Merit Cup sailmakers. All three syndicates engaged in a high-speed chase across the bay. Our sole intention was to prevent the other syndicates taking pictures of our "secret sail", which we managed to do, and so maintain the mystery that surrounds our sail programme.

After all the time and effort we have spent on the programme we have decided not to take the sail as the weather systems that are developing to the south, and which we hope will shoot us to Fremantle, make it unnecessary. All that work is not wasted, however, as we will use it later in the race.

For Leg Two and our first dive south into the Southern Ocean we have increased dramatically our food intake, upping it by as much as 25 per cent. We have added an extra meal during the day. We start the day with a muesli breakfast at 0600, a midday pasta meal and dinner, also some form of freeze-dried pasta at 1800. Then to finish off the day another muesli meal at midnight. We will also be taking a series of high-protein drinks. Just like all the other food it does not taste that good but it has a very specific role - to keep us working in some pretty severe conditions.

Four days into this leg I will be celebrating my birthday. There is no cake or night out to look forward to. Perhaps an extra protein drink or half-bowl of muesli. But, by 12 November, Silk Cut should be well into the Roaring Forties, a series of depressions that circulate the earth at 40 degrees south, and flying along clocking up 400-mile plus days. I am hoping that a 400-mile day will be my birthday treat.

The Southern Ocean is a wild and desolate place. It's what the Whitbread is all about. A fleet of similar boats dashing headlong towards Australia, all pushing as hard as they dare. Hoping to push just hard enough to get maximum speed with minimum damage.

Broken gear can be a two-edged sword. Any damage slows the boat until it can be fixed, and then when you get to land it eats into vital time, giving less time to recharge your batteries. During the first leg we had very little damage and this was because at every watch change the whole boat, from bow to stern, was checked. At least once per week the bowmen, Jan Dekker and Jason Carrington, give the mast and all the fixtures and fittings a comprehensive check. As the conditions become more extreme our inspections will become more frequent and exhaustive.

During the build-up to a re-start we spend a lot of time looking at the weather and for this leg it looks very interesting. The leg can be divided into three sections. The race to the Roaring Forties, the Roaring Forties itself and the dash to Fremantle. The first boat into the Forties will have a huge advantage and it could be another case of "the rich getting richer" and the boats at the back of the fleet being left behind.

We hope to be able to hook into the back of a series of depressions we have been tracking for a few days and ride with them all the way to the Southern Indian High, a high-pressure system, similar to the Doldrums, approximately 1,000 miles from Fremantle. This high could park the entire fleet for days and it is possible that the leg could re-start close to the finish. Only time will tell if the weather information we have is correct.

The easiest part of preparing for a Southern Ocean leg is the packing. We only have one small bag, about the size of a supermarket carrier bag and all we have to pack are 12 items: a survival suit, mid-layer salopettes, mid-layer jacket, two thermal tops, one pair of thermal long trousers, two pairs of thermal boxers, one pair of boots, three pairs of socks, one pair of gloves and one balaclava, one pair of shorts and one polo shirt. One thing we can all be sure of is that every item will be worn, in fact at times when it gets cold we will be wearing it all at the same time.