The fleet heads back for more, and Around Alone organisers announce a strategy to rejuvenate the next race

A little more than 24 hours into their second Southern Ocean leg, race favourites Thierry Dubois and Bernard Stamm have pulled into the lead of Around Alone. Stamm is currently lying some three miles behind his French rival and experiencing for almost the first time since the start in Newport last year what it is like to be 2nd.

Although generous, the stopover in New Zealand was barely long enough for some teams to remedy problems or make modifications. Most are scraping by on dwindling budgets.

Stamm’s boat delaminated in the last few days of the last leg and he had to make good the damage. Italian skipper Simone Bianchetti had a new mast stepped to replace the spare he borrowed from Bernard Stamm in Cape Town. Emma Richards’s large shore team was busy sorting out autopilot problems and having her badly torn mainsail repaired.

Bruce Schwab not only replaced the port pusher vang of his freestanding rig, which bent on the last leg, but decided to ‘cut and shut’ the boat while he was at it, rebuilding the bow of his Open 60 Ocean Planet with a more plumb entry and greater reserve buoyancy. While all this was going on, chippy Kiwi Graham Dalton was telling everyone how well prepared he was and how he’s going to show them the way this time.

Few of the skippers have it harder than those at the back of Class 2. The Open 40s are the miniature species of the fleet. They are out there longer and so have more weather and arguably more wear and tear, yet they get far less time in port for repairs, rest and recuperation. For them, the race is a perpetual game of catch-up.

So big a difference in speed is there between the classes that on the leg from Cape Town to New Zealand the last placed 40, Alan Paris’s BTC Velocity, arrived more than two weeks after 1st place Bernard Stamm. This almost unmanageable disparity is something the organisers and their advisers have been looking at and is one of the changes planned for the next Around Alone.

Yesterday, Clipper Ventures announced the substance of those changes. The two most signfiicant are the restriction of the next race to IMOCA Open 50s and 60s and an overhaul of the race organisation, much criticised by competitors this time.

The exclusion of Open 40s is despite chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s previously strong advocacy of the smaller class as an important stepping stone. The change will allow the organisers to shorten the span of the race by some two months.

A new race director is also being sought for 2006 and a panel of sailors, including Mike Golding, Brad Van Liew and Bernard Stamm, will be put in place to advise the management of the next race.

The changes appear to have been initiated by Fast Track, a sports marketing company engaged by Clipper Ventures to gain sponsorship for the event. No major sponsor has been found, and bar a relatively small cult following and some local support, the race has been gradually fading into obscurity. After ‘an exhaustive research study’, Fast Track concluded that changes were necessary to attract more support from sponsors, media and solo sailors alike.