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4 March 2003, 01:03 pm
Final Sprint Begins For Leaders
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Spirit of YukohRounding Cape Horn

Around Alone - Leg Four
Tauranga (NZL) - San Salvador (BRA)

There are as little as 4 - 5 days racing left for the leaders in Class 1, and the gaps have closed up to as little as 30 miles between leader Thierry Dubois on Solidaires and Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group-Armor Lux.
The complex high pressure system ahead is the common enemy now, which threatens to shake up the race order on the home stretch after 7,000 miles of hard-fought ocean-racing.

Veteran circumnavigator Dubois has to evolve his strategy for staying ahead: "I set out to position myself between Bernard and the finish, but he has gone off in another direction, which does not inspire me. So I've stuck to my original plan and follow my own way. Last night things turned out in my favour and I gained. We just keep eating away at the miles, one bite for him, one for me…and a stomach of nerves!"

Stamm will not find out what position and points he earns for Leg 4 - and therefore if he goes into the last leg on an equal footing with Dubois or not - until 48 hours after he finishes. Bobst Group-Armor Lux has today fallen foul of the fickle high pressure system and is only clocking 5 knots boat speed: "It's a concertina effect, and these gaps are not big enough, which is making life uncomfortable for me with my 48 hour penalty."

This is also a war of nerves as much as navigational skill, as 3rd placed Italian skipper Simone Bianchetti has been learning. Yesterday he was worn out and frustrated on the satellite phone: "I am struggling to get Tiscali moving through the water at more than 5 knots as the wind is light and all over the place. I am worried about my position in the West now, but I hope that overnight the wind will come back." He was right about the wind and has caught up to just under 400m from the two leaders.

All top three skippers are looking in their rear mirror as the fastest boat on the water in the last 24hrs is 4th placed Pindar, skippered by British skipper Emma Richards. She says that her 24hr run of 296m, nearly twice that of Stamm, is because she has been "sailing in a totally different weather pattern from the rest of the fleet, and skirting the high pressure that Simone got caught by…" Richards has benefitted from a 15 knot WNW breeze whilst the others are picking their way through the expanding high just North East of Buenos Aires. Nothing is constant in this area as Emma concludes: "By tomorrow the position reports could reverse and I will be watching the others tear miles out of me."

New Zealand skipper Graham Dalton ended up having to get rid of the whole mast from his Open 60 Hexagon after dismasting from a crash gybe in 35 knots of wind at 48 07S 59 29W on Saturday 1st March at 13:50 UTC. Then 650 miles from the Argentinian coastline, he was resigned to motoring towards Mar Del Plata, and meanwhile his team have been assessing the solutions for finding a replacement mast and rigging. Dalton is not about to quit: "It was my dream to race single-handed around the world and I am not going to allow circumstance to stop me from achieving this ambition. I may not end up with a result as good as I had wished for in the race, but I will be able to hold my head up in the knowledge that I have always done the best I can."

Bruce Schwab is starting his third day in Port Stanley on the Falklands, fixing the boom on Ocean Planet and finding that the locals have been following the Around Alone race online, so to have two skippers turn up on their doorstep is an extraordinary event.

Class 2 Leader, American Brad Van Liew on Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America, is right in the middle of the Class 1 fleet just 268m behind 4th placed Open 60 Spirit of Canada , an outstanding performance from an Open 50 after 6,000 miles run. His detour towards Graham Dalton on Saturday in harsh upwind conditions has been logged to receive compensation, however for Van Liew there is one thing more important than competition: "In single-handed racing the legacy of one competitor diverting to the aid of a fellow competitor is a big part of the ethics of the sport. I was determined not to let the ethical legacy ever be doubted and going to the aid of Graham for the 6 hours that his safety was in question was my sole purpose in life. These are the things that make the friendships and bonds of single-handed competitors like no other in sport."

American Great Lakes sailor, Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal, is the second class 2 skipper to have rounded Cape Horn on Sunday 2nd March at 16:35 UTC. This was a rite of passage for Kent: "We have summitted Everest - Cape Horn is abeam! After a wild night of squally weather, packing winds over 40 knots, Cape Horn appeared out of the sunlight between squalls as if scripted and we passed within 6 miles of the famous Rock. I feel honoured to be here, to see this storied point and move on. I am incredibly lucky to be on a boat this safe, in weather this good, on an adventure this grand. I am turning north now, and heading home."

The first Open 40 to get a safe passage round 'Cabo de Hornos' was Japanese skipper Kojiro Shiraishi on Spirit of yukoh at 11:08 UTC on 3rd March. Unlike Kent, Koji has been round before, but he never saw the legendary rock the first time: "This time I am very happy to say that I have seen it with my own eyes. Yukoh and Poseidon have been toasted and thanked with Champagne Mumm. I am really happy to be back in the Atlantic." The passage was not without drama as Koji's thumb on his right hand was twisted backwards when he was thrown from his bunk after a rogue wave slammed the boat side on.

And then there were two… both Alan Paris on BTC Velocity and Derek Hatfield on Spirit of Canada are anxious to get out of the Southern Ocean as Hatfield is eerily becalmed and yet there is another strong low pressure to the North approaching fast. Paris is happy to have widened the gap on Hatfield by another 50 miles to 140 miles, despite the original distance between them being 420 miles. However, this new depression could come bearing down on Spirit of Canada first and propel him closer still. Their ETA at the Horn is going to coincide with the first Open 60 arriving in Salvador, Brazil, revealing a gap of around 2,470 miles from first boat to last.
Brian Hancock/ISAF News Editor
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