VOLVO OCEAN RACE

Safety in the South

When Amer Sports One’s decision-making triumvirate-skipper Grant Dalton, navigator Roger Nilson, and tactician Dee Smith-sailed into the lead last week, Dalton was relying on his experience when he said there was "safety in the south." With that decision, they got the lead, and now, as they’re setting up for the final approach to Cape Town, their position 30 miles south of John Kostecki’s hard-hunting illbruck Challenge will serve them well again.

As the two front runners approach Cape Town 14 miles apart, the wind is forecast to shift to the southeast, favoring Amer, which will be able crack its sheets and approach Table Mountain with a better sailing angle. They are expected to arrive on Thursday, Oct. 25. Tactically, there’s little illbruck can do to overtake Amer, but in the span of three days and 600 miles, illbruck is certainly capable of a coup-Kostecki holds a vital trump card, years of training. They’re hunting down a team still learning to sail their boat and breaking headsails one by one.

"Another interesting day at sea," wrote Nilson on Oct. 20. "This morning started with full action about 0320. Since our jibe to port two days ago, we have been sailing a big part of the distance with our small reaching kite, Code 5. As the wind freed, it was time to change to Code 3, a larger reaching spinnaker. It all went smooth and we were just settling in with the powerful sail that was repaired since the damage north of the equator. Just as we were receiving the positions from the other boats, a gust hit us, the boat rounded up, rolled over, broached, and bang ... the hundreds of working hours repairing the Code 3 were wasted. The sail exploded to pieces and was painfully recovered."
With its full-size Code 4 set they sailed deeper south and gained further separation with illbruck, but over the following day, illbruck managed to reel them in and Dalton later explained how.

"The last 24 hours has been a reality check for this team on what is going to happen to us in the Southern Ocean unless we go back to the basics on how to sail a boat like this in a lot of breeze under spinnaker. It has left us with two totally destroyed spinnakers, one of which is mainly somewhere 150 miles behind us, a broken internal halyard and a crew which is now somewhat more receptive to the wise old men onboard telling them what to do.

"Last night in a squall we broached in a spectacular wipe out in 27 knots of breeze with our full size heavy runner and a full-size staysail. We lay there horizontal for 20 seconds until the staysail halyard broke firing the staysail through the spinnaker.. The boat righted it and we pulled the undamaged staysail onboard and the 20 percent of the remaining spinnaker. In the pitch black, we reset our heavy runner, which is small and waited for the mileage damage at the coming sked. As expected a slick, well prepared illbruck, sailing much better, wiped seven miles off our lead."

While the boatspeed battle continues at the front, the rest of the fleet is becoming further stratified. At the Oct. 22, 1600 position report, Team News Corp was alone, 266 miles behind Amer; Team Tyco and Assa Abloy were some 200 miles back on the racetrack, separated by 150 miles. Team SEB, djuice dragons, and Amer Sports Too, were nearly 1,000 miles off the lead. The cold front that brought breeze to Amer and illbruck has left a massive bubble of high-pressure in its wake. For the rest of the fleet, there’s now talk of sailing upwind to Cape Town. Worse yet, is lost time needed to prepare for the next Southern Ocean leg.

"The racing seems strange and somehow distant after the frenzy of the first two weeks," said Tyco’s skipper Kevin Shoebridge Today. "It’s easy to get caught up in the tiny differences in boat speed and bearing and then the whole game changes drastically with a change in weather or a few boats are in a different part of the ocean. Now the skeds reveal gains and losses of up to 50 miles and they are taken in the same manner as winning or losing half a mile a week back. That’s the thing about this race, parts of it, you would think you are in a one design fleet race and, other times, it’s as if we are the only boat out here."