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27 November 2005, 09:50 am
Flying To Cape Town
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Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006

Speeds are rising, places are changing; the winds to blow the fleet towards Cape Town seem to be coming along to put the boats and crews to the test once more. It's all about raw speed and sheer nerve. Max sail, but for how long?
The weather front that the fleet were looking for has come from the Brazilian coast and is now speeding toward the fleet. There will be a 90 degree wind shift behind it, but for now the boats are looking to stay on forward edge of the on-coming system and ride it for as long as possible. Given that these boats sail at least as fast as the wind and often faster, this should be a long, fast ride, gobbling up the miles towards the end of the leg.

All the boats should be as fit for the winds as the crews can make them, with plenty of time in the last week of lighter winds to make and mend. Now it's a matter of careful lunacy. Push, push and push, back off just before something breaks. This is where time in the boat will tell and where faith in your sails and equipment will pay dividends.

Already the boats are close to 20 knot speeds. ABN AMRO ONE has just posted a 415 mile 24 hour run at the 1600GMT poll, with twin sister ABN AMRO TWO next with 397.

After a gutsy run to try to break through to the front, whichever way you look at it Brasil 1 has slipped back to third, but she is still a good way in front of Ericsson.

Positions at 1600GMT were: ABN AMRO ONE leading by 50 miles from ABN AMRO TWO. Brasil 1 hanging on just six miles back in third, Ericsson 15 miles further in arrears in fourth, but having lost a surprising 12 miles on the leader in the past six hours. Nine hundred and thirty three miles behind is Sunergy and Friends, still struggling with lighter headwinds.

Just over 2,000 miles to Cape Town; fresh food, hot showers, a proper bed and perhaps the odd beer or two. At the speeds we are likely to see over the next day or so, that is only about four and a half day's sailing.

Si Fi SPEAKS

Aboard ABN AMRO TWO they are feeling the force of the new wind. Simon Fisher reports from the navigation station down below, 'After much anticipation and patient waiting, the downwind sleigh ride to Cape Town is finally underway. Since yesterday evening the wind has been steadily building along with our average speed. As the cold front approaches us from the west it becomes a race to stay ahead of it a little longer than our competitors ensuring a quick trip into Cape Town. As the wind increases we are forced to push the boat a little harder each hour. The wind is now at a steady 26 knots and we are still on the masthead spinnaker. With 500sq m pulling you along, the boat is starting to load up. All the blocks and winches are chirping and screaming louder than ever as the boat lurches aggressively down each wave. As I type, every few seconds I am thrown forward towards the screen of the computer as the bow buries under a wave and a torrent of green water comes charging down the deck.

'The question is how long do we keep this up? When do we change for something smaller? How hard is everyone else pushing? The safe option is to change early, but right now the fast option is the only one that matters. It's still within our comfort zone and the miles are falling fast so we will stick to what we've got for now. However, in a few hours it could be a very different story as the wind continues to freshen. We'll just have to hold on, wait and see.'

Event Media, Image: © Team ABN Amro
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