The Nautor Challenge syndicate yachts competing in the Volvo Ocean Race have arrived in Portsmouth, England, for final preparations before the start on September 23

The Nautor Challenge syndicate yachts competing in the Volvo Ocean Race have arrived in Portsmouth, England, for final preparations before the start on September 23.

“We’re here to join the battle,” syndicate chief Grant Dalton, skipper of Amer Sports One, said on arrival. But first there’s a lot of work to do and crew can expect little time off in the 21 days before the start.

Both yachts have already been hauled out at the Gosport yard of Camper and Nicholsons. The pace will be frantic, Dalton says. “We have just six days to complete the work before the yachts are due to be measured.”

“The Farr-designed yacht will get a new bulb and rig. Some minor modifictions will be made to the Frers boat.”

“There are many smaller jobs to do on both boats,” Dalton said. “We have five boat builders in the team, riggers, painters, electronics technicians, electricians and computer experts. We could do with another couple of boat builders.”

“Everything is coming together in a rush,” Dalton said. “Sail makers are working long hours completing the last of the race sails and we’ll be ready for the start.”

Which boat is still the question for Nautor Challenge. Nineteen days from the start of the Volvo Ocean Race and Nautor Challenge syndicate boss Grant Dalton is still not sure which of the new v.o.60s he will race around the world.

He is in no hurry to make up his mind which boat he and his men’s crew will sail and which will be sailed by the women’s crew. He acknowledges that it is a question he is asked many times a day and he would like to be able to answer it.

Dalton still bears the scars of his choice of boat in the last Whitbread Round the world Race in 1997-98. Dalton is sure that the Merit Cup syndicate chose the wrong boat. The yacht they left behind in England would have been more competitive in the weather conditions encountered around the course. Given only slightly different weather patterns on two or three legs of the race and the result could have been different. And this is Dalton’s dilemma in the final weeks of preparation for the Volvo Ocean Race.

The Nautor Challenge syndicate has built two new yachts, one from the drawing board of the Milan-based Frers design office and the other from the Annapolis, USA, Farr Yacht Design.

Now in England, Dalton says: “During testing in the Mediterranean and on the 2000-mile qualifying voyage we identified differences in performance in various sailing conditions. That will come as no surprise to anyone.”

“In the last week at our testing base in Spain and then on the 650 mile trip from Spain to Portsmouth, we have been able to quantify some of those performance differences.”

“The only part of the picture that is perfectly clear is that we have two very good, but quite different, strong yachts. We believe each is capable of winning legs. Each, given only slightly different weather, is capable of winning the race.”

“Now we are running the mass of data that we have collected alongside historic weather data for the race route and also against predictions, given that weather predictions so far into the future cannot be very precise.”

“The decision on which yacht is sailed by which crew is not mine alone, although the responsibility is ultimately mine. Our team has many widely experienced yachtsmen. Navigator Roger Nilson has sailed round the planet almost as many times as I have and Bouwe Bekking, my co-skipper, and tactician Dee Smith add considerably to the pool of top-level sailing experience.”

“As you would expect, Lisa McDonald, skipper of the women’s crew, is in on the discussions. We have also talked exhaustively to the designers, sail designers, weather experts and anyone else we could think of.”

“The consensus to date: It’s not easy.”