Tuesday Was Dalton’s Big Day

"Do you feel lucky punk ... well, do ya?" That questions was asked nearly 30 years ago by actor Clint Eastwood, and onboard Amer Sports One, skipper Grant Dalton, the true-grit cowboy of ocean racing, was likely muttering similar words to himself on Tuesday when he and his 11 teammates sailed back into the Volvo Ocean Race lead for the second time. The last time they’d seen the entire fleet in their rear-view mirror was on the Solent.

After days of bemoaning his fatter-than-the-rest Mani Frers design, and reporting of critical gear and spinnaker failures, Dalton received what’s believed to be one lucky windshift, and in the near blink of an eye, he was leading the fleet, initially by one mile over John Kostecki’s illbruck Challenge, the leader since the doldrums. As of 1600 GMT today, Amer has increased its lead to 33 miles.

"In a situation like we find ourselves in now, a number of superlatives come to mind-luck has a habit of evening itself out, the lord giveth and the lord taketh away, and a couple of others as well - fortune favors the brave," wrote Dalton on Tuesday. "We are leading, which is as big a surprise to me as I am sure it is to the other competitors. There is a big element of luck in what has happened, even if there was (is) a strategy in place."

The foundation of that strategy, according to Dalton, was to maintain a southerly position after rounding the waypoint of the Ilha Trinidade, which they did on the morning of Oct. 15, rounding the island fifth. "We came round Trinidade and headed south, no questions, no discussion," Dalton said in an e-mail. "Then an interesting thing happened. News Corp and Tyco crossed our bow headed east ... as the wind swung, favoring that side, we tacked with them after a 1.5-hour discussion. Dee [Smith] convinced us that it was the right short term thing to do. As soon as we could, we got back onto starboard to resume our original strategy, and, shit, suddenly we ended up in the lead, be it a very fragile lead."

Dalton went on to say that Mark Rudiger and Roy Heiner’s Assa Abloy, second overall on Monday, would get stuck to the north, and much to Rudiger’s frustration, that’s exactly what has happened over the past three days. Assa went from being 26 miles shy of the lead on Monday to 217 today. "When we rounded Trinidade, we had carefully looked at all the options and decided the fastest, highest percentage chance of success was going east and catch the northeasterly to carry us southeast," said Rudiger. "Initially the other boats did the same, but because of being the furthest northeast, we missed a small shift they got, which forced them on the other tack. That’s when a small separation turned into a big one."

As they were stuck to the north of the fleet, Assa also surrendered mile after mile to Ross Field’s Team News Corp and Kevin Shoebridge’s Team Tyco, now placed third and fourth, respectively, with News Corp 50 miles behind illbruck and 80 miles behind Amer Sports One. And for the time being, the weather models in the South Atlantic indicate that opportunities are limited for those following the man who owns the title as the fastest man around the planet. All the others can do now is lobby for some luck of their own and push to salvage as many points as possible.

"We have had some nice sailing over the past few days," said Shoebridge today, "but, unfortunately, it has turned into a leader’s leg. Amer Sports One have certainly taken the leg at the correct time, it couldn’t have worked out better for them. The boats in the southeast are leading into better pressure all the time so we are taking losses of five to 10 miles per sched.

"Ourselves and Assa have been hit hardest with the events of a few days ago at the island [Trinidade]. Let’s hope those situations even out around the world, they have a habit of doing that."

As of the 1600 position report, Knut Frostad’s djuice dragons had put some distance between themselves and Gurra Krantz Green Machine, as well as the girls on Amer Sports Too. For the moment, pink dragon is winning what its crewmember Arve Roaas calls "our little sub race at the back of the fleet." While the leaders are expected to arrive in Cape Town as early as Oct. 23, it could be an extra four days or more at sea for the threesome.