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2 January 2002, 09:46 pm
Can Assa Abloy Hold Her Lead as Chasing Pack Close In
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© Richard Mason

Volvo Ocean Race

Assa Abloy's crew know there is precious little wind ahead of them and the fleet behind is catching up fast, with their lead now down to 19 nms over Amer Sports One.
January 2002 -- Without doubt, today will be extremely tense for Neal McDonald and his team on ASSA ABLOY as they continue to lead the fleet towards New Zealand.
The problem for ASSA ABLOY's talented afterguard of Mark Rudiger, Chris Larson and Neal McDonald, is that the high-pressure ridge dominating the area ahead of them is giving calms ahead and they know they will slow right down today, whilst the chasing pack close in. Their concern is that they may park and their rivals catch right up, or even worse sail around them.

The high-pressure system looks like it will slowly drift off to the east and give light northerly winds down the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand. If that happens to plan then ASSA ABLOY should be able to cling on to their lead. If the high pressure area stalls, then we could see a restart of the race at Cape Reinga, with its strong tides.

The deciding factor in the movement of the high-pressure system is an active low-pressure system advancing east to the south of New Zealand. It has an active cold front that is also heading east and Neal McDonald and gang will be hoping that is has enough inertia to keep moving and hence push the high-pressure system out of the east. If that happens over the next few hours, which looks likely, then the calms may not have the chance to ensnare ASSA ABLOY, light northerly winds should fill in down the east coast of the North Island allowing the boats to finish downwind.

Grant Dalton's Amer Sports One in second place are closing in and waiting to pounce. His tactician Dee Smith writes, "Still chasing ASSA ABLOY and catching a little and the boats behind are catching us. All because the wind is lightening as we approach New Zealand. We hope the wind will fill when we arrive at the corner and ASSA ABLOY will be waiting for us. If not, we will gladly sail around by ourselves. This should be the last passing spot, but there can always be others."

`The race behind is fun to watch. illbruck just gunned down Tyco and News Corp in a power reach. But the other two are close enough when the wind gets light to make a pass. We might have found a kink in illbruck's armour. Four boats passed them in Storm Bay in light air.'

The battle for third place is hectic with all three boats watching each other's every move. If illbruck hold third, then six precious points will be quite satisfactory for John Kostecki's team and maintain them easily in the overall leaders spot with a total of 22 points. Should they slip to fifth, and Grant Dalton gain second, then that would give heart to chasing pack and move Grant's Amer Sports One to within striking range, only two points behind Kostecki's illbruck.

Amer Sports Too are still trailing along way behind after their rudder and forestay problems, but are now making fast progress with a strong WNW wind. They will be hoping the 'park up' ahead lasts longer than predicted, but realistically they can not really expect to catch up after their gear problems leaving them over 500 nms behind.



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