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21 October 2001, 12:56 pm
Boats Split Into Three Groups
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Volvo Ocean Race

With ASSA ABLOY and Team Tyco converging between the two main groups, another match race could be on the cards. The transition from front runners to mid fleet has proved a hard one for the crew aboard ASSA ABLOY.

"Nothing really amazing or exiting is happening on board these days, it is more about mental strength, professional attitude, keeping the spirit up and keeping fighting," says Sidney Gavignet from the boat. Describing the position reports as a series of slaps for the crew, Gavignet goes on to point out how important it is for them to keep their frustration to themselves. "There is no room and no use for complaint," he says. "The only attitude is to keep focus on the basics, trimming, steering, appreciate your half food portion and have a rest. The more you concentrate on your job and task forgetting everything else, the easier it will be to keep the mental [strength] up during the hard periods waiting for better days."

Tyco skipper, Kevin Shoebridge, sounds equally depressed. "We have just spent the last 15 hours under the effects of a black cloud," he says. In the process Tyco lost 50 miles to ASSA ABLOY while the lead bunch, in Shoebridge's words, "has done an horizon job." Describing the situation as not good at all, he says "the worst part being you know that you are losing big miles to other boats."

Despite a deficit of some 250 miles all may not be lost for ASSA ABLOY and Tyco. With perhaps eight days left to sail to Cape Town, there is simply no solid information on the weather conditions for the final run in to the finish. As illbruck skipper, John Kostecki points out, "Most of the legs in the Volvo Ocean Race have a tendency to slow up with little or no wind sometime before the finish. All of our most recent races we have competed in either slowed or parked up near the finish, so it will be interesting to see how this one ends up."

If another parking lot opens up on the final stretch it is still just possible that one of the trailing boats could spot the highway around it and pull into the overtaking lane. Possible but unlikely.

Further back the situation is even worse. With the gap between the back markers and the front runners now stretched to over 600 miles it would take a miracle to see any of this group now take the lead.

Despite this, the racing at the back is as fierce as ever. "The close racing continues, as we have just spotted SEB to leeward. After 24 hours of sailing out of sight of each other, we can see our bright green Swedish friends on the horizon again," says Wouter Verbraak from aboard djuice. SEB's Gurra Krantz echoes these sentiments. "We have to keep going and work hard for every meter. As hard as it is, we have to accept that we are in the second group and have to fight hard for our position. It is still 2,000 miles of racing with as many opportunities as there are traps."

With even the leading boats short of food the situation for the back markers is becoming increasingly desperate. In a moment of madness, the SEB crew even started to discuss the possibilities of cannibalism, sacrificing one of their crew to feed the others. "Just to get on with the discussion, we took all ethical arguments out and started to compose a menu out of the crew, Says Krantz. "Soon we found the juicy ones and those more suitable for being made into survival food only." The full menu makes interesting reading.

Perhaps most significantly, the back three are looking at a very short stop in Cape Town. Long term weather predictions are notoriously unreliable, but best estimates indicate a least twelve more days on the water for djuice, Amer Sports One and Team SEB. This would leave just over a week to prepare both boats and bodies for the first of the Southern Ocean legs.

Even the leg leaders are not going to have a surfeit of time in Cape Town. Grant Dalton, with what by his own admission was the most under prepared boat in the race will suffer most but for the time being he is concentrating hard on the race in hand. Following long succession of gains on illbruck behind Dalton has taken his first loss for a few days. "Up until Trindade I considered a loss to illbruck of five miles quite acceptable after the preparation time they have had compared to us, he says, "but now that we have had a sniff of our nose in front, the competitive instincts take over and you get mad as hell."

Dalton goes on to explain how he feels the need to keep going back to first principals. "This is a new campaign on a development leg and anywhere in the top four is more than acceptable," he says, pointing out that it could be as far as Auckland before we are up to speed. Right now however Dalton reports that Amer Sports One "is throwing caution to the wind and going as hard as we can."

You can be sure that illbruck just 32 miles behind is pushing hard as well. If nothing else they have set a new 24 hour run record for the race at 330 miles. "We have now been cruising along at a 13 knot average for the last three sched reports," says skipper, John Kostecki, adding "It is nice to finally be making good progress on our destination."
Peter Bentley/News Editor
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