Sailing: The shortest leg presents a test in shortage of options: Grant Dalton, skipper of the maxi leader, New Zealand Endeavour, sets the scene for the Independent as he plans the best alternatives for the trip to Auckland

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The Independent Online
GETTING into Auckland first is second only to winning the whole race, though we also want to regain our overall lead. We have a lot of supporters back home and do not want to let them down.

But it is also important to a number of other boats, not least Winston, who need to prove they can be as good as second just by their efforts on the water, rather than as a result of time compensation.

Intrum Justitia needs to show that the second leg win was not a fluke and Eric Tabarly is under a lot of pressure to revive the fortunes of La Poste. Since I was a boy I have read about, watched and respected Tabarly as a legend.

Whether or not he will improve the French maxi I do not know and I am not exactly scared stiff, as I believe we have an edge over that boat and Pierre Fehlmann's Merit Cup. But then Pierre seems to believe that, too.

Tabarly has changed rather more than 20 per cent of his crew, which breaks race regulations but is not something about which I want to make a lot of trouble.

This third and shortest leg could either be even more tricky than the first or, more likely, very straightforward, and Mike Quilter has been monitoring the weather pattern not just since we arrived in Fremantle but long before.

The first major factor in the third leg occurs just after the start, where it looks as though we will have a stiff beat. Not what we want. Cape Leeuwin provides not just a turning point across the Great Australian Bight, but the test of tackling the associated high-pressure zone.

The generally anticyclonic systems track eastwards at about 15 to 20 knots past the cape every week and between each of them is a front, also moving east. So you have to know which part of the cycle you are in as you hit that first corner.

You can dig south to the top of the Roaring Forties or work your way across and down. If you are lucky you can pick up a front which takes you all the way to the south of Tasmania; if not, the whole fleet could be parked.

One way or another you also have to go south, from about 32 degrees in Fremantle to 43 in Hobart, so the area of high pressure has to be crossed, and the rounding of Tasmania makes a second gathering point. Coming at the half-way point in what is anyway a short leg, this, too, cuts down the tactical options.

Up the Tasman Sea can be anything from a flat calm to north-easterly gales. You can have the living daylights bashed out of you, but it is nowhere near as scary as the Southern Ocean as there is no ice, you are closer to land, and there is plenty of shipping about.

Generally, we will be working up the high-pressure belt to Cape Reinga, where south-westerlies prevail. Last time it was nip and tuck all the way in with Peter Blake's Steinlager and we all know that the race to be first to finish could again go all the way to the line.

The crew is once again very keyed up. They have all prepared in their own way and we are ready to go. The original mizzen is in the boat to replace the one we broke and we have new sails, about 26 of them, for this leg.

We worry about the Whitbread 60s as they could scamper away if they get a big breeze across the Bight. So I will be happy if we have a little lead turning the corner at Tasmania. If we do, then we will be very hard to catch.

(Photograph omitted)

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