Sailing: Whitbread yachts stay in close contact

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The cards are still being shuffled for the nine Whitbread Round the World yachts in the Great Australian Bight and no one has yet been dealt what looks like a winning hand. The computer says that Toshiba is closest to Sydney but, with over 1500 miles to go and 10 miles separating the first seven, racing is tight for the whole fleet almost for the first time in the race.

All the yachts are heading south-easterly at approximately the same speed with the most significant difference being the spread of about 60 miles from north to south.

The back marker, but also the most southerly, is Knut Frostad in Innovation Kvaerner, racing hard again after repairing a damaged mast. "It's hopefully an investment worth paying for early," he said.

Paul Cayard, the skipper of Sweden's EF Language, was in the lead and also the most northerly yacht. He reported that the first 40 hours of the leg had been as tough as any he had sailed.

Cayard also reported a problem with his mainsail, which was doubly unusual as the all-woman crew on sistership EF Education suffered the same damage. Cayard claimed 15 minutes for a repair, Christine Guillou said it took an hour.

The skipper of Merit Cup, Grant Dalton, feared for the fleet with upwind conditions making sailing very difficult, but predicted the fleet would have some relief in next few days.

"No way can you call the last 24 hours pleasant when yesterday was filled with constant tacking in fresh wind, no sleep for the boys and lots of water flying around," Dalton said.

"The boat is very wet down below and only today will meal times start to be popular again."

Gunner Krantz, the winner of leg two and currently second in Swedish Match, was another troubled skipper. He asked for a change in the rules against sailing the water-ballasted 60-footers upwind, and limiting the number of tacks they could make on any one leg.