The Race - 0730 - 31/1/01

Innovation Explorer charge ... into trouble - story by Sean McNeill for QuokkaSailing.com

Wednesday January 31st 2001, Author: Sean McNeill, Location: United Kingdom
Beset by 50-knot winds at the head of the fleet, Grant Dalton's Club Med is watching Loïck Peyron's Innovation Explorer charge up from behind as they head for Cook Strait.

Leading in a round-the-world race is often a double-edged sword. It motivates the crew to keep pushing to maintain its advantage, but it also means that you lead the way into gut-wrenching scenarios.

Such is the state aboard Grant Dalton's Club Med, leader of The Race since Jan. 14. The 110-footer with the multi-national crew is on port jibe and charging toward Cook Strait, the required passage between New Zealand's North and South Islands.

At the same time, the crew is watching its lead over Loïck Peyron's second-placed Innovation Explorer dwindle by the minute after topping out at around 850 miles last weekend.

The cause of concern: a high-pressure system developing to the west of Tasmania that's pounding Club Med, but giving Innovation Explorer high average speeds. At the 1900 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) position report, Innovation Explorer had averaged 24.3 knots over the previous hour compared to 22.4 knots for Club Med. That has allowed the Frenchman to surge within 716.1 miles of the leading Kiwi.

"We are keeping a watchful eye on this high pressure that is building and moving into the Tasmanian Sea. It's very interesting because it will allow us to get back in the match," said Innovation Explorer co-navigator Skip Novak.

Ever the worrier, Dalton was concerned that his lead could be down to 200 miles as the conditions behind him and in the Tasman Sea ahead are more favourable for Innovation Explorer. "We're getting hammered at the moment. He's in this different system to us and it's paying off nicely for him," Dalton said of Peyron. "As we head into the Tasman Sea Innovation Explorer is going to ride that system straight up behind us so I expect that they should get to within 200 miles of us. They're going to nail us to the wall ..."

Yesterday could be counted as Innovation Explorer's best day in The Race. The mostly French crew on the long, white boat logged 605 miles in 24 hours, its first 600-mile day. It also broke Club Med's record between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Leeuwin. Innovation Explorer covered the distance in seven days, 14 hours and 10 minutes, four hours quicker than Club Med.

Despite the good vibrations, all is not well aboard Innovation Explorer. Recently, skipper Peyron has indicated a desire to stop in Wellington to pick up a new sail. That stop may become necessary because one of his daggerboards is now severely damaged, as were two other items of equipment.

"It was at the end of my watch, it was two o'clock in the morning when we heard a loud bang," explained crewmember Elena Caputo. "Then there was a lot of noise inside the hull and finally there was another shock at the rudder. We realized that we had just lost half the daggerboard! Just after that we lost the second life raft hatch [a lid that closes the life raft compartment on the main beam] and half an hour later it was our companionway cuddy [canopy over the entrance to the hull] that broke. Finally, our heater gave up the ghost because water got in it."

When asked if Innovation Explorer would stop in Wellington, Caputo replied: "The decision is not in my hands, but I know that Loïck has contacted Multiplast [designer and builder of Innovation Explorer] to order another daggerboard."

Novak, Caputo's husband and crewmate, echoed the same feeling. "The damage to the daggerboard is significant and it will be difficult to continue like that. On the other hand we're very pleased to have beaten the Cape to Cape record and to have finally broken the 600-miles-in-24-hours barrier!"

Club Med, meanwhile, continues to deal with harsh weather on the front side of the approaching weather system. "We've got two reefs in the main and the storm kite up at the moment, which we've actually had on for the past couple of days," Dalton said.

"Over the past 24 hours we've seen the strongest winds since the start of The Race. We've regularly seen over 50 knots," he added. "Carrying a spinnaker in over 50 knots is interesting stuff! There's just way too much seaway to get the boat up to any major record breaking speeds in that stuff."

Leading positions at 0230 GMT 31/1/01

1. Club Med, 12,399.1 miles to the finish
2. Innovation Explorer, +714.2 miles
3. Team Adventure, +4,088.9 miles
4. Warta-Polpharma, +4,577.2 miles
5. Team Legato, +6005.5 miles

First published on QuokkaSailing.com, republished with permission.

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