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14 April 2002, 10:05 am
Leg 6 Starts Today
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Volvo Ocean Race

Today in Miami the eight teams competing in the Volvo Ocean Race will line up for the start of leg six to Baltimore.
Racing is due to start at 1300 local time, 1700 GMT.

Leg six of the Volvo Ocean Race will take the eight teams less than four days to complete. It's going to be a titanic 875nm battle along the eastern seaboard of North America.

If the last leg was a 4,500nm drag race from Rio de Janeiro, this next leg is going to be the opposite - tight tactical racing from start to finish. Perhaps this is the change needed to see some new faces at the front of the fleet?

One thing is for sure, a collision such as the one involving SEB and illbruck at the start of Leg 5 would certainly play a major role in the overall finishing positions. Whereas before illbruck was able to sail from last to first in the space of half a week, this time the teams will barely have a chance to affect repairs, let alone climb through the fleet.

Currently the weather forecast for the next few days shows moderate, 15-knot winds coming from the southeast - perfect VMG reaching (straight line sailing) along the Floridian coastline. Two boats well suited to these conditions are John Kostecki's illbruck and Jez Fanstone's News Corp. The News Corp team are yet to score a top two result; if they do, it's likely to give them the drive necessary to push hard and gun for overall honours. The loss of Ross Field, co-skipper and navigator, could cause the team initial teething problems, however the remaining crew and replacements are strong and are unlikely to be troubled by the change.

Neal McDonald's ASSA ABLOY and Kevin Shoebridge's Tyco have also shown good speed in these conditions. For leg five the two boats were locked in battle for some 3,000nm, neither willing to give an inch. Over the past two weeks the teams have been working hard on their sail inventories, so we may see an improvement in reaching performance. Both teams also have crew members based in Annapolis, another reason to push hard and get overall honours.

Grant Dalton's Amer Sports One may again struggle in the predicted conditions. On two occasions now the Kiwi skipper has spoken of worries regarding the boat's reaching speed - originally the point of sail everyone expected to be its optimum. However, this leg is not simply going to be down to boat speed alone. Clever tactical moves will also play a major part in the racing. With the Gulf Stream current and its numerous eddies stretching the length of the course, this will be a game for the thinkers as much as for the speed machines.

Gunnar Krantz' SEB and Knut Frostad's djuice have both struggled to score consistent top ranking results to date, however either one of them could well excel. The boat speed problem djuice appears to be suffering from is unlikely to affect the team's result in this leg. Frostad's pink dragons proved themselves out of Rio, holding second place for several days before being overhauled by the trio of Tyco, ASSA ABLOY, and illbruck. Clever early tactics could well propel the team into an unbeatable control position.
One can't rule out the girl power on Amer Sports Too either. Though the girls are yet to cross the finish line ahead of one of the boys' teams, during the last leg they came dangerously close. It is possible to speculate that had the team not been plagued with mechanical breakdowns they could well have fended off djuice's advances and finished in seventh place. The only obstacle in the way of success is the potential for tough conditions half way up the coast. Although Watch Captain Emma Westmacott believes the team can now execute sail changes and manoeuvres as well as the rest of the fleet, rough seas and strong headwinds could potentially put a spanner in the works should the weather systems develop in a similar fashion to four years ago.

Although the solid performers are likely to again control the podium positions, Lady Luck will no doubt play a large part in the final positions when the boats arrive in Chesapeake Bay. Tyco , illbruck, and ASSA ABLOY must be favourites for the podium again, however anything could happen during the three days of racing. Amer Sports One, News Corp, djuice, SEB, and Amer Sports Too all have a good chance of upsetting the norm. That's all of them by the way - one thing is for sure, it's going to be an exciting three days of racing.

John Greenland - Volvo Media/ISAF Secretariat
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