Sailing: Perilous winds put fleet under pressure

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The Independent Online
The nine boats in the Whitbread Round the World Race braved radically shifting winds yesterday as they sailed to Auckland from Sydney on the fourth leg.

"This is really nasty stuff. The wind is still clocking and is blowing between 25 and 32 knots," said Dennis Conner, who almost lost one of his crew overboard from second-placed Toshiba.

"One of the guys was washed through the lifelines and held aboard by his safety harness. Thank God, or we might have been employing our man overboard procedure."

"It is conditions like this that make me think about taking care of the crew and boat even more than usual, and it is a huge responsibility which I do not take lightly."

Gunnar Krantz's Swedish Match was less than a mile ahead of Toshiba, while the British entry Silk Cut, skippered by Lawrie Smith, was fifth, 37.9 miles behind the leader.

Before the night's excitement, Smith had experienced an exhilarating day under a blazing sun on a warm sea. "It's even more fun than the last leg, because we are flying along at 16-18 knots," he said.

Merit Cup also had a rough night which included a hair-raising broach. "We ended up having to cut the halyard and after lying on our side for 10 minutes dragged the spinnaker back over the stern," the skipper, Grant Dalton, said. "The boat feels like a hired horse which has smelt home."

The all-woman crew of EF Education had to deal with a large hole in the deck caused by the failure of a tack fitting. "We quickly ran off downwind to prevent too much water getting in," their navigator, Lynnath Beckley, said. The crew repaired the damage with board, foam, bolts and screws, but the emergency left EF Education 95 miles behind Swedish Match.

The overall race leader, Paul Cayard, had decided to take EF Language hard south and had paid for it by slipping to eighth.

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE (fourth leg, 1,270 miles, Sydney to Auckland): 1 Swedish Match (Swe) G Krantz 493.4 miles to finish; 2 Toshiba (US) D Conner 0.7 miles behind; 3 Merit Cup (Monaco) G Dalton 14.3; 4 Chessie Racing (US) G Collins 36.4; 5 Silk Cut (GB) L Smith 37.9; 6 Innovation Kvaerner (Nor) K Frostad 50.8; 7 Brunel Sunergy (Neth) R Heiner 65.3; 8 EF Language (Swe) P Cayard 68.7; 9 EF Education (Swe) C Guillou 95.2.