Injuries have been one of the big worries of this leg, reports Tim Jeffery

Will our Millennium Party be the first of a bout of celebrations for LG FLATRON’S crew? The 1,000 miles to go bash was our way of toasting turning our backs on the Southern Ocean with five sixths of the long haul from Sydney complete.

If we continue to be the fleet’s pathfinder there is every chance that after the weekend we could be celebrating LG FLATRON’S third win in five stages, an ever tightening grip on the race overall and one or two other very satisfying milestones, including the fastest time between Cape Horn and the Cape of the Good Hope, the two points which bookend the very raison d’etre of the BT Global Challenge.

Taking on and coming through this desolate ocean makes demands of crew and yachts like nothing else in this race. You can have considerable sympathy for Sir Chay Blyth when he admits: “I’m much happier when the yachts are in port.” There were times we’d have been happier to be alongside him.

At the risking of tempting fate, this is the first time the Challenge fleet has come through the Southern Ocean unscathed: no rigging screw worries as in 92/3 or fraying standing rigging as in 96/7, each of which brought a dismasting.

The breakages this time have been to people and Veritas’s Charlie Smith sent a harrowing yet inspiring note around the fleet this week from his hospital bed in Canberra recounting his 10 operations so far to fix his legs, which were shattered back in the Tasman Sea. Mercifully, his has been the only major injury.

Now we are into easy conditions, with dry suits packed away, it was a timely reminder as just what menace the open ocean can hold, just how isolated you can be at the bottom of the world.

On LG FLATRON, for instance, we’ve had two below par. It just shows that what would amount to a quiet doctor’s visit at home for a rib and knee problem takes on a new meaning when land is 2,000 miles away. Clearly, skipper Conrad Humphreys and medic Jared Kreiss, whose usual beat is the ER room of major Philadelphia hospital, were the first involved. Then there was consultation with the fleet doctor, GP Alan Evans on Compaq. All communications were routed through race HQ, so the Southampton staff come into the loop, as did Challenge Business staff in Plymouth, determining if shoreside contacts needed to be notified.

When the pair were taken out of the watch system, mother duties exchanged and crew moved between the port and starboard watch to restore missing horsepower in the bow, we found very quickly than an individual problem had not only affected another 17 onboard but involved another half a dozen or more. It reinforces just how interdependent each yacht is. And how extensive the support system ashore is.

Our concerns are now all about what lies ahead, not what’s been left behind. Besides, the sapping living on the edge in hard conditions is quickly eradicated from the memory, leaving much pleasanter images embedded: the quite majestic seas and achingly beautiful Southern Lights.

We’ve had one frustrating 24 hour period of running into high pressure and out of wind which saw a full 100 miles shaved off our handsome 220 mile lead. LG FLATRON has regained half of what she has lost but we still worry about potholes and pitfalls ahead, especially in the final run-in to Cape Town, which has a well-earned reputation for torturing crews anxious to cross the line and closing not just a leg of the race but a significant chapter in their lives.