Sailing: Tactics to test the intrepid: British Steel Challenge - Stuart Alexander on the rigours facing amateur crews in today's trek home

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AFTER the nervous aspect of the first leg to Rio, the anti-climax of rounding Cape Horn on the second and the grinding slog of the third from Tasmania, the intrepid amateurs competing in the British Steel Challenge set off from Cape Town for Southampton today facing their biggest tactical test on the final leg.

John Chittenden's eight-hour lead in Nuclear Electric is very fragile to protect as the 10 identical 67-footers complete the 28,000-mile trek.

The decision to sail upwind, but more controllably, around the world, as opposed to sleigh-riding downwind as in the professional Whitbread Race, has been rewarded with practically no serious injuries, though this last leg of 6,400 miles starts with south-easterly trade winds and spinnaker work as the fleet crosses Table Bay and then turns up the west coast of Africa.

The next problem is the pattern of winds coming off the Namibian desert and that is followed by negotiating the Doldrums. It is normal to go west to pass through a narrower band and avoid being close to the African shore and its counter-currents. But if you go further west then you have to sail tighter angles to the north-east trades and this is followed by the second problem of the Azores high.

The fast multihulls can afford to take a deep cut west and then cut back east, but the slower British Steel boats may choose to squeeze inside and easterly.

After that it is an easy matter to negotiate two sides of the triangle, pushing north until meeting up with the prevailing south-westerlies to take them into the English Channel. There, a new set of problems connected with the strong tides awaits them and all advantage could be lost if they are misjudged.

BRITISH STEEL CHALLENGE (start of final leg, Cape Town to Southampton): 1 Nuclear Electric, 115 days, 10hr 29min 31sec; 2 Group 4, 115:18:25:38; 3 Hofbrau, 116:05:28:48; 4 Heath Insured, 117:10:40:06; 5 Coopers & Lybrand, 118:07:51:12; 6 Interspray, 118:10:21:07; 7 Pride of Teesside, 119:03:53:18; 8 Rhone-Poulenc, 123:02:25:31; 9 Commercial Union, 123:20:58:46; 10 British Steel II, 127:03:41:35.