Sailing: Tactics are key to close finish: Grant Dalton, skipper of the leading maxi, New Zealand Endeavour, writes for the Independent about the Whitbread third leg

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The Independent Online
THE celebration only lasted for a minute, but the cheers were loud when we went into the lead for the first time on this leg. It was by just a mile, and we later lost that distance to Tokio, but we needed the boost and it came at a good time.

These are the moments a skipper hates most, when all can be lost or won, and very publicly, in the last five per cent of a race. Add to that a finish in our own home town, in front of all those who have supported us for the past three years, and the pressure is enormous.

We knew we would be in catch-up mode having been screwed to the wall by the 60s. You have to feel for the boys on Winston (the previous leaders). They had their big break, but it came at the wrong time.

Our own tactical options were clearly laid out as we watched Yamaha and Intrum take the southern route and we went with the northern group. We knew that the north tended to have less pressure of wind to drive us along, but the French maxi, La Poste, had also picked the northern station. She has been going rather quicker on this leg. So we could not allow her to go off on her own.

As it happened the weather also went our way and, though we have been sailing as close as we can to a 15-knot north-easterly, we have been making our course for Cape Reinga and the run down to Auckland. The big questions are how long will this breeze hold and will we be able to put any distance between ourselves and the 60s?

Right now, a win should be enough and we will have to work very hard to achieve it. But I always have the thought that I would like a little extra. I want to be back in front of the whole fleet on elapsed time for the three legs so far.

Once again, despite some very hairy times on this leg, when we were down to storm sails, we have broken nothing, lost no time due to gear damage or injury. The preparation work by the crew, both racing and shore, deserves a big mention.

As we enter the last stretch the crew are quiet and determined, knowing that they will now all be called out of the normal watch system to race night and day for as long as it takes to cross that finish line.