Seat of the pants sailing under spinnaker as Norwich Union tried to hold rivals at bay

Tim Thomas anticipates a cliffhanger finish in Wellington:

‘If anyone had told me we would have this much spinnaker work in the Southern Ocean, I would have laughed them out of town. In fact, if they had told me we would have any spinnaker work at all, I would have looked at them with disbelief.

‘And yet here we are, entering the final 500 miles of the leg, screaming along under 2.2oz flanker averaging 12 knots through the moonlit night and under the blue skies of a warm Southern Ocean day. This morning arrived with a spectacular sunrise, the whole of the sky a dramatic montage of varying cloud formations and vivid colours, the sea transformed from its usual grey to a burning rose and the skies so big you needed fishes eyes to take them all in.

‘We are holding a 12-mile lead over Spirit of Hong Kong, we have brought Logica to within 39 miles, and we are making great gains on the leaders and we would at least like to see some fleet compression before the end. It is also quite galling to prove once more that boatspeed is not a problem for us: we believe we can out-sail almost any of the boats at close quarters, which we have done several times. It seems that it is our positioning and reading of the weather that lets us down.

‘For now, therefore, we are not going haring after Logica, we are concentrating on trying to block Spirit of Hong Kong, Veritas and BP, all of which are close at our heels to the south. It is going to be a nerve-wracking last couple of days.

‘The weather indicates that we shall have headwinds for a time, including a front that is threatening us with up to 50 knots of wind. It seems the Southern Ocean has one little surprise left for us yet. More importantly, though, is what will follow this front. The forecast is for variable winds, but we are hoping they will settle to the south-west, giving us a nice run home. The strong winds with the front may only last 12 hours or so, but at least we will not have to worry about being becalmed.

‘Flying the flanker has once again proven to be a sailing highlight; we were holding it in true winds of up to 35 knots, slicing through the water at 100° to the apparent, notching up speeds of 16 knots – not bad for a 42-tonner. It’s a real seat-of-the-pants experience. It doesn’t get much better than this.’