Sailing: Union in watch switch

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The Independent Online
STRONG, westerly gales promise more punishing sailing for the 10 identical 67ft boats in the British Steel Challenge now half-way through the third leg from Hobart to Cape Town.

The yachts have been producing good reaching speeds, despite unremitting cascades of water over the deck and temperatures only a few degrees above freezing.

Mike Golding in Group 4 is now 2,779 miles from landfall in South Africa and has a 66-mile lead over John Chittenden in Nuclear Electric, who seems to have established not only second place but the overall lead for the three legs.

Tactics have been reduced to the very simple for the skipper Richard Merriweather on Commercial Union. 'There are remarkably few decisions to take,' he said, 'and they are a matter of compromise between those for the prevailing wind conditions and keeping abreast of the competition. We try to stay to the windward side of the fleet.'

Commercial Union is lying fourth with 2,883 miles to go and Merriweather has split his crew into two watches of six, rather than three of four, so that they can complete a change of sail without calling for assistance from below.

This can still take at least 20 minutes, so more and more attention is being given to trimming the sails to suit changes in wind strength and direction. However, with the wind at 60 knots, there is little to do except hang on and hope it will soon abate.

Alain Gautier, who is nearly 20 degrees north of the Equator, continues to maintain a steady 800-mile lead over Philippe Poupon in the Vendee Globe single-handed non-stop round the world race.

Nearly 3,000 miles behind Poupon, the 64-year-old Jose de Ugarte has lost a lot of his supplies of water, food and diesel. 'I am permanently hungry and thirsty,' he said.

BRITISH STEEL CHALLENGE Third leg (Hobart to Cape Town) Positions (with miles to finish): 1 Group 4 2,779; 2 Nuclear Electric 2,845; 3, Hofbrau 2,877; 4 Commercial Union 2,883; 5 Rhone-Poulenc 2,887; 6 British Steel II 2,893; 7 Coopers & Lybrand 2,909; 8 Interspray 2,926; 9 Heath Insured 2,939; 10 Pride of Teesside 3,008. Information supplied by BT.

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