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1 January 2002, 09:28 pm
Boats Approaching Tip of New Zealand
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Volvo Ocean Race

As the leading group make their way towards the northern tip of New Zealand it's the moment of truth, will the leaders park up, or will they round the northern tip of New Zealand unscathed?

Across the world people have been celebrating the dawn of 2002, however there are at least 97 men and women who have put their New Year celebrations on hold until the end of the week.

Neal McDonald's Assa Abloy, which has been leading the fleet since departing Hobart, remains strong as she leads the chase east towards Auckland, New Zealand. Though the team are harbouring a self-confessed compulsive gambler their strategy has proven faultless as the team continue to extend their lead.

`I guess I have been in denial for some time but now it is obvious,' explains navigator Mark Rudiger, `after our move out of Hobart and previous legs that I must confront the issue head on.' Fortunately this leg has seen the majority of Rudiger's gambles come off, with the team now showing the true potential of 'the rocket'.

However Rudiger, an obviously down to earth character, is now fully aware of his addiction and has sworn to solve the problem on arrival in Auckland. `I'll check into Gamblers Anonymous in Auckland, and hope by the restart, I have the tools to win down the middle.' The crew, clearly with the American navigator's best interests at heart, have already started the rehabilitation. `When I awoke this morning, all the card games had been deleted off the computers,' describes Rudiger.

Any plans for brief celebrations at the stroke of midnight on board the competing V.O.60s was soon dashed when the fleet was hit by winds gusting up to 38 knots. These conditions make for extremely tough sailing, with every change in wind direction or speed requiring a different combination of sails.

`We started on jibs, went all the way through the reaching jib and spinnaker inventory to finish up on running spinnakers, only to go all the way back again to jibs,' explains Team Tyco skipper Kevin Shoebridge. The team, currently locked in a battle for fourth place with John Kostecki's illbruck Challenge, are ideally looking for a top three result to keep their hopes of a high overall finish alive. `The conditions are quite bizarre, no settled direction or speed,' adds a clearly confused Shoebridge.

For illbruck's Richard Clarke these conditions threw his party plans out of the window. `The plan was to dash down below just before midnight light some sparklers and burst through the hatch shouting happy New Year, pass out a few cigars, light them up, and talk about resolutions we won't keep this year,' explains a down hearted Clarke.
Unfortunately Clarke couldn't plan the weather and so just 45 minutes away from smoking a celebratory cigar the world turned against him. `The wind went from 15 to 18..20..22..24..25 - all of a sudden we had a fair bit on,' describes Clarke. `We were in the thick of it for the rest of my watch. At one point just after midnight I looked at cheese and said 'happy bloody New Year' (I used a different word than bloody) at least this year is coming in with a bang.'

Some 1,500 miles to the northwest of the leaders limps the eighth boat in the race, Gunnar Krantz' SEB, now en route to Auckland having repaired their boat - the team were forced to retire from the leg when their rudder broke after the first day of racing. Krantz is understandably down, but the ever-optimistic skipper now has his sights set on the next leg.

It may be the start of a new year and for some new beginnings, but for the teams competing in the Volvo Ocean Race the battle continues. Only time will tell what will happen when the teams reach the northern cape of New Zealand, if the wind drops ASSA ABLOY could lose her lead, if the wind keeps blowing then there are few remaining chances for the chasing pack to catch up.

ISAF Secretariat/Volvo Ocean Race Media
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