Match race nightmare

Three boats are now neck and neck just 23 miles behind illbruck

Monday February 18th 2002, Author: Peter Bentley, Location: Transoceanic
Positions at 1006 this morning
Yacht Lat Long DTF CMG SMG DTL DTL-C
1 illbruck 24 30.40S 043 18.80W 96 034 5.7 - -
2 Amer One 24 55.64S 043 35.40W 123 346 7.7 27 -7
3 Assa Abloy 24 48.88S 044 00.08W 124 352 6.4 28 -1
4 Tyco 24 51.40S 044 00.20W 126 350 6.3 30 0
5 djuice 24 53.88S 044 03.80W 129 345 7.4 33 -3
6 News Corps 29 54.12S 045 53.60W 445 007 4.7 349 +2
7 Amer Too 32 55.04S 048 43.44W 669 031 10.1 573 -16
8 SEB 53 10.16S 070 54.40W - - - - -
Knut Frostad wasn't kidding when he pointed out that, "it's closer than ever between all the boats in the fleet, and you would have to be gambling a lot to predict the outcome of this one." At the 0400 position report, illbruck's lead had been pegged back to 23 miles.

In steady conditions it is a game of tactics and skill. Throw in a few rain squalls and shifting breeze and things start to get complicated. Frostad sums up a typical scenario. "We hiked up to the east a little, after being equal with Assa Abloy, watching them to leeward. Jean-Yves kept track of potential squalls on the radar, the whole night, and by about ten at night we found our rain squall. The idea is to get them behind you, slightly on weather side, and then figure out what direction they are moving. This one moved north west, and we managed to ride it for almost five hours, with possibly three to five knots extra wind. Although we went plenty off course, it paid off. Now we are watching Assa Abloy again on deck, but this time they are to weather."

Who would be a tactician? Do you gamble all on catching illbruck and risk dropping back to fifth if it all goes wrong? You could cover those around you to keep what you have but even then, there is a risk that someone will get a puff and simply sail past. Such is the game of cat and mouse being played by the fleet right now.

And what would you do if you were tactician on illbruck? "With 250mn to go to have our 100nm lead whittled away to a mere 16 miles at a rate that would see us in a restart scenario has been frustrating to say the least. But this is yacht racing, you really have to be prepared for the worst and be ready to fight for each mile," reports an understated Ray Davies from on board.

And its not just one boat that is in close pursuit. As now seems customary for this race, the main group are all sailing in sight of one another, all desperately trying to hunt down illbruck while at the same time, keep ahead of their closest rivals.

"For the last 50 miles, the forecast is for very light gradient winds so we will be effected a lot by whatever is going on in Rio," says Paul Cayard from Amer Sports One. Pointing out that the local forecast is for thunderstorms Cayard goes on to say, "it doesn't look like anyone's finishing position will be secured until they cross the finish line."

Despite their broken rudder, News Corp continue to push hard. Early on Wednesday morning an inspection indicated that the transom of the boat was slowly coming off because of the load from the stern hung rudder. Three of the crew worked all day and night to rectify the problem, taking parts from various locations around the boat to strengthen the transom and the rudder head unit. Not content with that piece of work, the crew then set off to devise a better way to steer the boat other than sitting on the cockpit floor using the tiller. "After hours of experimenting, we are able to use the wheels now," reports Ross Field. "As a result, we push that little harder and therefore are a little quicker."

A combination of lighter winds which ease the strain on the emergency steering and the more efficient system have paid off and the losses to Amer Sports Too have halted. Worse still for Amer Sports Too the failing breeze could yet fade away completely as a high pressure system starts to fill. The prospect of sitting out on a glassy ocean as their rivals enjoy a beer and get started on refitting their boats, though not new to the all women crew, is not a welcome one.

Page two.... Email from Knut Frostad aboard djuice
Page three.... Email from Paul Cayard aboard Amer Sports One
Page four.... Email from Emma Westmacott aboard Amer Sports Too
Page five... Email from Ray Davies aboard illbruck

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