Sailing: Whitbread round the World Race: Stress a factor as boats set sail

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WOUNDS to both people and boats have created an undertow of apprehension in an otherwise festive Auckland ahead of the 5,914-mile fourth leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race from New Zealand to Uruguay, which starts tomorrow.

One broken ankle, Ian Stewart, the bowman on Tokio, and one broken foot, Lawrie Smith, the skipper of Intrum Justitia, are just two testaments to the dangers lurking on board the new Whitbread 60s. The jerky motion, high speeds and torrents of water breaking over the decks are catching even the most experienced, leaving a trail of heavy bruises and twisted limbs.

Stewart returns to Tokio despite not being fully fit, having to wear a brace. 'I know Ian is not 100 per cent, but he is part of the team and I am confident he will do everything he can,' his skipper, Chris Dickson, said. Smith, 38 yesterday, had the cast taken off on Wednesday, but yesterday had to announce the surprise departure of his watch leader, Gunnar Krantz, Sweden's America's Cup skipper in 1992 and a close friend of the man Smith replaced, Roger Nilson. Marco Constant was signed just for the fourth leg as 12th man.

Down below, the forward sections of the Whitbread 60 hulls continue to suffer from delamination as the learning curve on matching stress to strength continues steeply upwards. Intrum, Tokio, Winston and Yamaha have all needed further treatment while, quite separately, the maxi Merit Cup has required a complete keel rebuild.

At the half-way point the race at the top of the Whitbread 60 class is as tight as it could be with one hour and 27 minutes separating second from fifth after Winston received four hours compensation for a distress call.

Dickson is a country mile in front with a 17hr 40min lead. He has only to nurse his boat carefully to win that class. While he continues to insist that he does not care about leading the No 1 maxi, Grant Dalton's New Zealand Endeavour, by three hours, his smile will be the greater if he can also lead overall.

Dickson was to increase the crew to 12, until the last-minute departure of Joe English. The Californian sail designer Peter Heck is the new man, but Dixon had clearly recognised the value of an extra body on a machine that drains every ounce of energy when being sailed hard. Dennis Conner's co-skipper, Brad Butterworth, has also bowed to reality. Having insisted that 10 was enough to sail the boat, he has called in another New Zealander, Godfrey Cray.

There is the added factor that Cray is a navigator; he sailed the first two legs on Yamaha, and it seems he will work alongside the Italian Matteo Plazzi trying to make the best of the satellite information and the pre-race analysis provided by the Australian Roger Badham. Cray's replacement, Murray Ross, has also departed, so Ross Field, the skipper, has called up a meteorologist Nik White but will take the navigational decisions himself on Yamaha.

WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE Revised positions after three legs: 1 Tokio, 63days 11hr 25min 54sec; 2 NZ Endeavour 63:14:32:10; 3 Yamaha 64:05:06:12; 4 Winston 64:05:27:52; 5 Galicia 64:06:16:40; 6 Merit Cup 64:05:19:17; 7 Intrum Justitia 64:06:34:57; 8 La Poste 65:10:35:34; 9 Brooksfield 69:20:08:56; 10 Heineken 71:21:01:37; 11 Hetman Sahaidachny 73:12:55:37; 12 Dolphin & Youth 73:16:56:22; 13 Uruguay Natural 77:08:45:33; 14 Odessa 90:21:34:44. BT Results Service.