Yachting: Death before dishonour approach grips the fleet

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The Independent Online
Those Whitbread boats nursing battered reputations are keen to get to sea again but, as the skipper of Merit Cup reveals, some crews could be in danger of overstepping the mark.

There are a number of boats here in Cape Town who are only too aware of what they will have to do on the second leg. The mood around the race village is that bad results in the first leg must be rectified.

Although this leg is only half the distance of the first, it carries the same number of points. The priority is to be in the first three. This is not a cop out in advance for not winning the leg. Consistency is the name of the game - consistently high placings in all nine legs.

For Merit Cup, however, it is not a time to be taking chances - no death before dishonour. There's no point in blowing the boat apart, although I sense some of our rivals may end up trying too hard.

We managed to give the crew three days off last weekend, but overall, the pace has not slackened. The three weeks in Cape Town have been no holiday. We have replaced the broken gear, repaired the sails and we believe we start the leg fitter and stronger than before.

We have reviewed our sails, hopefully plugging the gap in our close reaching ability that became apparent on the first leg. I think Lawrie Smith put his finger on it when he said Silk Cut and Merit Cup's sail inventories were too conservative. By that he meant that we lacked some of the specialist sails that operate at peak performance in a narrow band of wind angles and speed.

Some sails have very narrow operating peaks, but they can deliver a significant speed advantage; in some instances half a knot. That's a huge difference. Over 24 hours it's 12 miles and over 14 days it's 168 miles.

The withdrawal of America's Challenge because of cash problems has allowed us to add Jared Henderson to the crew.

The second leg has fewer tactical choices for navigators. The first decision is how aggressively you dive south looking for the stronger westerlies. Then you have to decide how late you leave the push north to Fremantle.

No one will sail the shorter Great Circle route - it's too far north. The fleet will go further south to catch the stronger breeze but where the distance to sail is greater. The question is how far south.