Superlative sailing, but make a wrong sail choice and you lose. Manley Hopkinson, skipper of Olympic Group, explains why it's so hard to keep your grasp at the front of the BT Challenge fleet

Manley Hopkinson, skipper of Olympic Group, tries to defend his position among the race leaders of the BT Global Challenge. He reports from the front line:

‘Our tempestuous friends have now gone and only a long veil from tropical storm Nadine provides any disturbance. The wind slowly died last night, leaving me with one of those really awkward decisions about to when to change from our successful poled out No 1 to a more efficient light wind set.

‘The saloon is now a fully fledged sail loft and all meals are taken on deck, so the emphasis on rest has been forced to change. We need to have this 2.2 [spinnaker] ready to go soon. The crew were as tired as I was.

‘At 0400 the wind died to such a level that I knew deep down that a spinnaker would be best. That meant having to remove some of the on watch from sewing and there would be no rest for me. Jungle [the mate] and I both talked the benefits of the poled out No 1, and so two hours later we made the change.

‘At 0730 the revised schedule of positions (‘the sked’ as it is known onboard) showed that we had let Save the Kids slip from our grasp a bit and that Quadstone and Compaq had closed the gap. Do you remember going to school not having done your homework? That awful feeling deep in your stomach that you are going to be in trouble and that you’ve let yourself down. I knew that I had not ‘maximised’. I had taken the easy route.

‘This afternoon, while talking to Jungle, I mentioned this. “You too, huh?” he replied. Both the skipper and his mate knew we had let the team down. This time the penalties were small and recoverable. Let that be a lesson to us both.

‘The day has seen a change in our fortunes and winds. The 1.5oz spinnaker did us proud this morning. More superlative sailing. (Help, I need that thesaurus). We held it shy, and made good ground.

‘Late morning, the wind, she left us to wallow. I remember well that sinking feeling of impotencefrom the first leg when we were stranded in lifeless highs. No, not again. Imagining the fleet sailing by. I knew there would be wind further to the east and have been making east for a couple of days to meet it. But Save the Children had left us to the east this morning, and the rest of the fleet, though still well north were also eastward.

‘I spent most of the afternoon on the wheel trying to maintain momentum. The next sked did not please. We were 5th now, but only by 15 miles. Analysis of the relative positions show that there is nothing to worry about and that the five first placed yachts are almost in a straight line perpendicular to the rhumb line, with us still the most southerly.

‘The initial disapointment following my briefing to the crew channelled to effort renewed. As I write, we are under genoa, trucking along nicely south-east with a steady breeze.’