Sailing: Union in shipshape state: Stuart Alexander finds competitors spread far and wide as they head for home

 

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The Independent Online

The bets are placed and the wheel of fortune is turning for the 10 yachts in the British Steel Challenge as they entered the area of the Doldrums over the weekend. Each crew are hoping they have picked the spot where they will be lifted through by a little breeze while the others are slowed.

Furthest east are both the first and last yachts, Commercial Union and Heath Insured, separated by 176 miles with CU 30 miles closer to the finish in Southampton than their nearest rival, Group 4. Life on Heath is subdued as they try to recover from the psychological blow of the loss overboard last Thursday of crewman Bill Vincent.

Furthest west, by nearly 300 miles, is the seventh-placed Hofbrau, one of the pre-start tips to record the fastest time of the 67-footers in their 28,000- mile circumnavigation against the prevailing winds and current.

The final leg from Cape Town has been warm and pleasant, the equator- crossing ceremonies enthusiastic and there should be favourable winds once the Doldrums are cleared.

Mike Goulding, the skipper of Group 4, which is contesting the overall lead with John Chittenden in Nuclear Electric, said yesterday: 'Further cause for celebration when crossing the line has been our return to the front of the fleet, though the racing remains tight and our position is by no means safe.

'We are now in the infamous Doldrums region and our various strategic cards have been played. It now remains to be seen which yacht will get through this area first. Whoever that is will most certainly have a profound effect on the final result - both overall and on this leg.'

BRITISH STEEL CHALLENGE Fourth leg (Cape Town to Southampton) Positions with miles to the finish as estimated by BT Results Service: 1 Commercial Union 2,942; 2 Group 4 2,972; 3 Nuclear Electric 2,974; 4 British Steel II 2,991; 5 Pride of Teesside 3,002; 6 Rhone-Poulenc 3,012; 7 Hofbrau 3,063; 8 Coopers & Lybrand 3,066; 9 Interspray 3,081; 10 Heath Insured 3,118.

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