Sailing / Round the World Race: 'We should perform better in the lighter airs': Grant Dalton, heading off on the fifth leg north from Punta del Este, continues his captain's log from the armada of boats circling the globe

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The Independent Online
ONCE more into the fray, or should I say fry, as we head up through the tropics for the fifth leg to Fort Lauderdale. Once again our primary aim is to be first boat across the line, regardless of whether that is a maxi such as ourselves or a Whitbread 60. In theory we should be faster, but we all now know that the theories have been comprehensively blown out of the water. If nothing else, we are able to give the W60s a race and the margin between ourselves and Tokio, the leading 60, is so small as to keep that interest alive.

As always, the weather will hold the key. We should perform better in the lighter airs, even though this time the W60s have their big spinnakers to play with. But the weather all the way round, so far, has been more breezy than the average and the 60s are being sailed so competitively that the boys are squeezing more and more out of them right down the wind range. And there are opportunities for both big breaks and big losses on this leg.

We are fully geared for lightweight sailing, the boat is in first-class order, and the crew is very keen to see a fourth Heineken trophy in five legs go into the record book. When we set out last September it was with the aim of being the fastest boat in the fleet around the world. That is still the aim and the fact that our nearest rival is a W60 rather than another maxi makes no difference.

I have recently received the results of a further computer analysis commissioned by me to look at the comparative performance of the maxis and the W60s. The new work was needed because the pre-race predictions were theoretical about the 60s, while there was a 10-year development pattern to the maxis.

In fact, the predictions about the W60 performance have proved about as reliable as general election opinion polls and the leading 60s have performed well above what the velocity prediction programmes indicated.

In talking to Bruce Farr, designer of our yacht and 10 out of the 14 60s in the race, he has pointed out that the predictions did not take proper account of the 60s' advantage in surfing conditions, and even the fresher weather could be responsible for a one per cent variation, that is six hours on a 25-day leg.

That is the winning margin and one with which we would be very happy over the three weeks we expect to take for the next 5,500 miles. But, additionally we shall have to play the current up the coast of Brazil with all the guile we can muster, as well as demanding from ourselves the intense level of concentration that is now such a feature of the Whitbread.