Sailing / Whitbread Round the World Race: Hard rain, nerves and the yellow jersey: Grant Dalton, first by a few minutes to sail into Punta del Este on Sunday, continues his captain's log from the Whitbread Round the World Race

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The Independent Online
IF THERE is one thing that both Maxi and Whitbread 60 crews can agree on about the fourth leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race - the second through the Southern Ocean - it is that it did not go by the book, which promises hard, fast-running conditions under sunny skies.

That is how it had been for my previous three races, but this time, although the winds were generally lighter, and uncharacteristically often more ahead of us in direction than behind, the nerve-jangling caused by hairy spinnaker runs was replaced by a lot more pressure, both psychological and physical.

Some of the crews are saying it was a little boring, but being up front, or in a position to be up front and actually winning, is never boring. If you are bored, you are not sailing hard enough.

And it was hard. Two weeks of constant rain and drizzle ensured that. Sailing upwind or jib-reaching, at one stage for 2,500 straight miles, and more in total, ensured that. We did not once use our lightweight mizzen gennaker, our biggest sail and one we hoped to use much of the time, in all of the 6,000 miles.

To cap it all we had a 1,000-mile match race up from Cape Horn against Lawrie Smith in Intrum Justitia, finishing just 5min 39sec ahead of them. If we had also been in a Whitbread-60, the boys believe we would have done really well. As it was, it was reminiscent of the old battles between the nippy Bugattis and the thundering Bentleys. For a dinosaur, we have been able to give the cheetahs a good run.

Perhaps we also find it more physical because, having two masts on our ketch-rigged maxi, we have to make many more sail changes. Those who say most loudly that being the first home of the 14 boats, rather than just winning the separate classes, is unimportant, are consistently those who would like to wear the yellow jersey themselves. We have it back and are happy about that.

Whatever the conditions, and another thing everyone agrees is that it was a tactical minefield out there, everyone wants to be first across the line. We are enjoying two races and still want to be the fastest boat of the 14 around the world.

That brings a pressure of its own. I remember thinking that Peter Blake was spreading it a bit thick when he said that it took him three months after the last race to wind down and sleep easy. After all, he was always in front. Now I understand. When you are the one that everyone wants to topple, you cannot relax.

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