What leg two holds in store for the BT Global Challenge as the fleet leaves Boston, the teams that have most to prove and the crew who've decided it's not for them

The 12 yachts in the BT Global Challenge left Boston yesterday and are racing towards Buenos Aires, in Argentina. The leaders are expected to finish the 5,800-mile leg in just over a month’s time.

The early leaders are Compaq and Norwich Union, with the fleet spreading out this morning south of Cape Cod.

Weather and tactics play an even bigger part than on the leg to Boston. “It’s primarily a downwind leg,” commented Stephen Wilkins, skipper of Spirit of Hong Kong, “and it will be very interesting. If you make one mistake, it could be over.”

The leg ahead divides into several strategic parts. One is the race down to the Doldrums, which requires crews once again to negotiate variable weather patterns and the Gulf Stream. Another is the crossing of the Doldrums, and thereafter the race through the south-east Trades and down to Buenos Aires.

One of the least predictable elements is the position and width of the Doldrums. Distances between the yachts is most likely to stretch here and the positions of yachts as emerge from this area of calms and squalls could be a clue as to their finishing places.

Large amounts of downwind sailing should see the new boats come into their own. Daily runs over 200 miles have been the exception so far, but 24-hour runs of over 250 miles should be achievable in the Tradewinds belt each side of the Equator.

These same conditions are the hardest for helmsmen to cope with and a lapse in concentration can result in sail damage. Only four spinnakers needed medium or major repair work at the end of leg one, from a total of 48 in the fleet. The casualty rate will almost certainly be higher this time.

In itself this could affect the results, firstly because it reduces the sail options available, and secondly because hefty penalties are imposed for spinnakers damaged beyond economic repair. These are: two points (equivalent to two places) for the flanker, 1.5oz, 0.75oz spinnakers and three points for the promotional spinnaker.

While Quadstone, BP Explorer and LG FLATRON will be hoping to consolidate their top three places, Norwich Union and Olympic Group have most to prove. Manley Hopkinson, skipper of Olympic Group, was caught badly in the Gulf Stream on the way to Boston and by misjudging the speed of fronts. “We’ve got to get it right this time,” he says.

Neil Murray, skipper of Norwich Union, has yet to show his form after choosing to go a different way to the others on the first leg. “We must do well on the remaining legs,” he comments. “We need to be in the top three. It’s a tough target, but I think we are sailing in the top 25 per cent.”

But Murray doesn’t necessarily intend to follow the fleet down the line on this leg. “I don’t think Norwich Union would want another big gamble,” he admits, “and I think I am now less inclined, but I wouldn’t completely rule out another flyer again. I do think outside the box and I look for opportunities to make a gain. But I think I would weigh up the risks more carefully in future.”

Among the skippers, John Read is the newcomer, having been brought in to to replace Andy Dare on Team SpirIT. By his own admission, his racing experience is “a bit limited”. However, his immediate task will be to get a querulous crew back on track. The downwind sailing expected should help him, as it will keep more crew occupied than sailing upwind.

Four crew from various yachts have also left the race. One is leaving because of work commitments; another three are quitting because, to use the current BT Challenge euphemism, ‘it wasn’t for them’. Four more crew will miss leg two for medical reasons and hope to rejoin later.