Dave Dowling's Clipper prize win has certainly taught him a different view of the world 17/7/06

“Before I came on boardLiverpool, I’ll be honest, I thought sailing was an upper-class sport, a rich man’s hobby, well out of my league,” admitted Dave Dowling, known as Double-D to starboard watch. He’s a bit of an oddball in the crew – an anti-smoking adviser with the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation by proffession, he won his place on leg 7 through a competition run by the Liverpool Culture Company.

Liverpool is due to become the European City of Culture in 2008, and the Culture Company is the organising force behind the year’s events. Liverpool have shown tremendous support for the race in the past, but this year the Company were particularly keen that the city should be well represented on board and organised the competition to place three different people on three legs of the race. They needn’t have worried – in my watch alone over half the people are from the Liverpool area.

DD came to the race with no experience except the Clipper training sessions. “I’ve had my ups and downs,” he remembers. “In the first race from Jamaica to New York it took me a long time to adjust – the lack of sleep and cramped conditions take some getting used to.” The day before I spoke to DD he had one of the downs after the yankee clew smashed into the camera stowed in his leg pocket, but the following day he was back to his usual self. “This has taught me a lot about myself,” he explained, “and about how to deal with setbacks. It teaches you to be mentally strong, to say that what happened yesterday, happened yesterday.”

Experiencing the teamwork required to run a racing yacht has also been a positive aspect for DD, but he’s far from converted to sailing. “I might carry on a at a low level,” he said dubiously, “but for now, I’m just looking forward to getting home.”

Liverpoolis still in fourth place, 63 miles behindVictoriawho is now in the lead. The wind has backed to a southerly Force 3-4, causing us to drop the kite and continue under the newly-mended No 1 yankee, staysail and full main. We’re currently making around 8.5 knots on a course to weather Ushant and enter the Channel to the south, but the Grib files show an ominous wind hole ahead after which the breeze re-establishes itself from the north.

A lot depends on the size and position of this area of light and variable breezes, which according to our present information looks set to affect the entire fleet except perhapsQingdao, who is making excellent progress well to the north of the main body of yachts on the original rhumb line from New York. A recent turn of fortune has sent them speeding through the lower end of the fleet and they are now only two miles further from Jersey than us and in better wind – I fully expect to see them claim more places over the next couple of days. As for those yachts caught in the wind hole, there might well be a ‘car park’ effect, where the fleet bunches up for a tense finish.

Inevitably there are a lot of amateur weather prophets on board at present, but the truth is that there’s no point counting chickens – we won’t know until we get there. We’re making good progress at present, and with a large helping of luck may skirt the southern edge of the wind hole, but with less than 750 miles left until the finish and an area of constricted water up ahead, we can’t afford to be too radical in course deviations to follow uncertain weather predictions. Once again, it’s ‘wait and see.’