Sailing: Soldini conquers conditions to take lead

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AN OVERNIGHT burst of hard work and speed saw Italy's Giovanni Soldini in Fila take the lead from Marc Thiercelin's Somewhere as the Around Alone fleet went south into the Roaring Forties three days into the second leg from Cape Town to Auckland.

In yesterday's buffeting conditions, Soldini recorded speeds of up to 30 knots in his 60-footer and is piling on the pressure as he seeks to reduce the deficit from the first leg from Charleston when he finished five days behind the winner Mike Golding.

The rough weather is causing some anxiety, particularly to Isabelle Autissier, one of the pre-race favourites. She reported problems to the port side of the keel on PRB, which forced her to turn north for comfort and safety as she consulted the boat's designer and builder in France. She then resumed course confident that she would not lose the keel, but annoyed at the delay.

"I am expecting to be told that I must work with only the starboard hydraulic ram which controls the angle of the keel," she said. "I am fed up with these crises. I would like to sail a normal leg for once."

Britain's Josh Hall, who is in fifth place, reported from Gartmore that he is "hanging on for the ride. These are scary machines down here on your own. My top speed today was 30 knots with the boat definitely in charge. I would be lying if I did not admit to a high level of fear and trepidation. I know how easily the boat could wipe out if the smallest thing went wrong."

Golding's Team Group 4 is within sight of Soldini and Thiercelin as 10 miles cover the top four boats, with Hall a further 53 miles behind. "It's great to see them surfing along at 20 knots plus," Golding said, but he also recounted a radio conversation with Thiercelin in which the Frenchman "sounded relived to have the night over". As Golding pointed out, if Thiercelin, a Vendee Globe veteran, is finding the going tough, then it is hard for all of them.

However, the former SAS officer, Mike Garside, is making light of the conditions and is romping away at the head of the Class II 50-footers in Magellan Alpha. He has pulled out a 65-mile gap on the second-placed Jean-Pierre Mouligne, who won the first leg in Cray Valley.