A game of many parts

The Volvo fleet is well separated with the big battle in the middle

Wednesday January 2nd 2002, Author: Peter Bentley, Location: Transoceanic

Next stop Auckland for Assa Abloy

Baring disasters, Assa Abloy should lead the Volvo fleet into Auckland in the early hours of Thursday morning (local time - aproximately 16.00 GMT Wednesday). While her 36 mile lead over Amer Sports One looks invincible, this is yacht racing and anything could happen yet. "The leading two boats looking hard to catch unless there is a big hole waiting for them," says Jez Fanstone from News Corp, adding wistfully, "it has happened before."

Amer Sports One in second and djuice in fifth are sailing their own races with big gaps to the leading yacht as well as to those behind. Still open is the struggle for places three to five, and illbruck, News Corp and Tyco are doing all they can to be in front of their rivals at Cape Reinga and more importantly, Auckland.

Describing the race to the finsih as "Fairly straight forward," Tyco skipper kevin Shoebridge concludes that there are not too many tactical options or passing lanes. "Unfortunately for us as illbruck and to a lesser extent News Corp have opened up a gap on us. illbruck seems particularly quick in the fresh tight reaching conditions, after trying many combinations of sails and trim they still have a small edge. When you are in the same piece of water for 1000 miles the smallest performance edge can turn quickly into a nice margin." Shoebridge goes on to hope for lighter conditions and some running down the coast of New Zealand, and "plenty of opportunity yet to get round these guys."

Earlier, Assa Abloy, had been spending as much time under the water as on it. Mark Rudiger reports,

"I had just yelled up the hatch to Neil McDonald that the New Zealand Weather Bureau had posted gale warnings for our area in the next few hours. We were getting prepared and I was watching the barometer for the front. Suddenly without warning the wind jumped from 25 to 36 knots with a header! Next thing we knew we were flying along 20 degrees below course with blast reacher staysail and a reef. First second reef, then staysail down, then #4 up, then third reef as winds were now gusting to 38.

Describing his crew as "12 Wet Labradors," Jez Fanstone and the crew on News Corp have been suffering a similar fate. "This leg seems to have been the hardest physically so far. I don't know if it is because of the stopover in Hobart and the fact that we haven't recovered from the trip down there properly but moving the ton of wet sails around the boat is a daunting task at the moment.

"We have had a lot of gear changes in the last few days requiring us to change sails and move all the gear around in the boat, which has been draining, on the bodies' reserves. This has been accompanied by a continual soaking so that the boat below smells like it is inhabited by 12 wet Labradors.

Onboard Amer Sports Too, Lisa McDonald reports a wild night to bring in the new year. "A lightning storm is burnt into our memory for the beginning of 2002," she says. "It was our version of fireworks only a bit more dangerous and we were stuck in the middle with nowhere to go."

"It all started after midnight with a big dark cloud band looming to weather of our course. There was nothing on the radar for a long time during it's approach, no touchdown of rain as of yet. The fiery forks flared up as the cloud got nearer, soon they reached the sea. The ship's power was turned down, fearing the worst and running on compass bearing and telltales through the intermittent heavy rain and lightning bolts. We hoped our carbon mast wouldn't attract the lightning if it wasn't transmitting or receiving anything. It seemed to be over in an hour or so before it came back with a vengeance and very big bright sheet lightning as well. It was like having a picture taken at night of the whole area with a really, really big blinding flash, everything whited out except the outline of the boat and clouds.

Secure in the knowledge that only major disaster can take away a second runner up spot for the race Grant dalton aboard Amer Sports One is watching the boats behind with interest. "The race behind is fun to watch," he says. " illbruck just gunned down Tyco and News Corp in a power reach. But the other two are close enough when the wind gets light to make a pass. We might have found a kink in illbruck's armour. Four boats passed them in Storm Bay in light air."

Poking fun at his own Frers designe boat he goes on to say, "All is well on the fat bottom girl, just reaching through life. Still chasing Assa Abloy and catching a little and the boats behind are catching us. All because the wind is lightening as we approach New Zealand. We hope the wind will fill when we arrive at the corner and Assa Abloy will be waiting for us. If not, we will gladly sail around by ourselves. This should be the last passing spot, but there can always be others.

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