Stricker closes on Cape Town;trouble among the 40 footers

In many respects, the nine skippers who comprise the Class II fleet of the Around Alone race are broken into three separate but relatively equal groups. First there is the triumvirate of J.P. Mouligne, Mike Garside and Brad Van Liew, all sailing sponsored boats that are safely tied up at the V&A Waterfront here in Cape Town. Then comes the trio of George Stricker, Robin Davie and Minoru Saito; like the leaders, these skippers are sailing 50-footers but all are still en route to the “Tavern of the Seas.” At 0944 GMT today Stricker, the current leader of this pack, was holding fourth place in class and was 566 miles from the finish line. Then there is the troika made up of Viktor Yazykov, Neal Petersen and Neil Hunter, all in command of boats at the Around Alone minimum length of 40 feet.

When it comes to these 40-foot skippers, size definitely does not matter. At this morning’s update, Yazykov and Petersen, holding fifth- and sixth-place respectively, were stationed in front of two-time Around Alone veterans Davie and Saito and their 50-foot steeds. Yazykov, with 1,040 miles still to sail, was just 16 miles ahead of Petersen early today. And although Hunter was in ninth place with 1,915 miles on the Distance to Finish line, he remained in front of Class I 60-foot sailor Fedor Konioukhov.

The three 40-foot competitors have every right to be proud of their performances. But Yazykov, particularly, has been remarkable. Though he spotted the fleet several days at the outset while he prepared his boat after a late qualifier, he has proven that the Open 40 design that he helped design and build can compete with much larger vessels. Yazykov, however, was given a time penalty of more than 10 days due to his tardy arrival, and when the final numbers are sorted out he will not be a factor in the first-leg standings.

That does not take away from Yazykov’s accomplishments on the race course. And he’s been making gains in the last several days with a broken shroud that has forced him up his rig numerous times to effect repairs. Those jaunts have reportedly aggravated an elbow injury that he incurred on the final days of his qualifying sail. Race coordinator Peter Dunning today said that Yazykov, in a COMSAT-C service message to race headquarters, described his elbow as “swollen, red, and with a yellow mark on it.” Dunning added that Yazykov has communicated with fleet medical consultant Dr. Dan Carlin of the World Clinic, who prescribed antibiotics and told his patient to pay close attention to the situation in the days ahead. Further back, in a note to shoreside supporters Hunter said he was now maintaining a regular radio schedule with Petersen. He also gave an update on his progress: “The wind is starting to drop so every scrap of rag is up to try and hold course with some boat speed. I’m crossing my fingers and hope it picks up. I heard from someone that there is a magnum of champagne [waiting after I cross] the finish line so here I come.”

Of course, the primary reason that Davie has slipped behind both Yazykov and Petersen is his lost rudder. Here’s his report from South Carolina: “Winds have gone from north…to south and at present are in the southwest–a hopeless direction as I am trying to sail with the wind pretty much astern. That’s not good for the boat’s balance so we are jibing often…to persuade the boat [to hold] an easterly track. That’s often easier said than done.” To accomplish the jibe, Davie said that he has tied buckets to the lines he is trailing in an attempt to wear the boat through the wind. “I seem to have done nothing for the past 24 hours other than haul the bucket and stern ropes from one side of the stern to the other… It’s tiring to the point of distraction.”