Assa jockeys for lead

Assa and illbruck neck and neck as Volvo boats head for Miami

Tuesday March 26th 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom
The sail factory - Steve Hayles reports from Tyco

A tough night aboard Tyco has come and gone and despite some small losses, the situation could have been worse. First the tactical bit for those that are interested. Yesterday we 'jagged' a couple of decent shifts and pulled out to a few miles in front of ASSA ABLOY before the breeze built last night and headed us on starboard.
The wind speed was a real bonus as it built towards 25 knots for a while with lots of active clouds and squalls. ASSA ABLOY is very fast most of the time but in stability reaching conditions with a chute on they have a big edge over us and for several hours they whittled our lead down until they were just half a mile to
leeward and a couple of hundred meters behind.

They could not quite get through below us, so they tried the high road, which worked better for them. We set the boat up a little differently and moved some weight around and found ourselves a little more on the pace. We were holding them off, when our full size heavy masthead chute blew up and left the whole crew scrabbling to get the pieces down and a new replacement spinnaker onto the bow.

It did not take too long to sort out, but when the opposition is moving at 15 knots and you are doing 10 they cover ground pretty fast and they ended up directly abeam of us to weather. We hung on okay with our undersize reaching chute for some time, but the breeze has lifted now and we are desperate for the repair to be finished.

It's about an hour away at present by which time we will be 1.5 miles behind them. The battle continues and is likely to do so until the end, ASSA ABLOY is without question very fast and have an edge in a variety of conditions but we will keep pushing and we know that the remainder of the leg is far from simple
which will really put the pressure on them.

A quick word now about the realities of fixing sails out here. For those of you who haven't been on these boats, the interior living space is pretty cramped. We have a useable floor area of about 6 foot by 6 foot in which you can move around and the surface is flat. Now imagine trying to unravel the remains of a spinnaker that is about 85 feet by 40 feet and is over 3,000 square feet in area. Once you have worked out which way is up, you need to find all of the tears (there are often many), which quite often run the full height of the sail. You then need to use sticky-back cloth to stick them together, before you sew the whole thing back up with a portable sewing machine, only to put it back up in the same wind conditions that just destroyed it.

I have seen it done countless times, but I am always genuinely amazed how these guys manage to turn a complete mess back into a decent useable spinnaker. It's a difficult task, done under a lot of pressure from the guys on deck, who know how badly we need it up. This repair will take nearly five hours, but the sail-makers cannot try and cut corners, as the 'weakest link in a chain' analogy works well here and even an inch of badly stitched seam will cause the thing to come down in pieces as soon as it sets.

Overall it's a setback we could have done without, but the battle is far from over and we are confident that we can pull this one off. Everyone is very fired up and with 400 miles to go we will be stepping things up a gear from now. Watch this space!

Steve [Hayles]

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