So near and yet so far - Garside and Van Liew are within 300 miles of the finish line, with Yazykov close behind

In a turnaround from their Leg 1 battle to the finish line, Mike Garside and Brad Van Liew were approaching Cape Reinga at the top of North Island this morning and lining up for a neck-and-neck run for Auckland. Garside took the opening salvo in the skirmish for second in Class II, overtaking Van Liew in the final 150 miles and beating him to Cape Town by a mere hour-and-a-half. At one point, Garside had trailed the American skipper by more than 300 miles. Now Van Liew, a firm believer in the old adage that ‘turnabout is fair play,’ is trying to re-write the ending and overtake Garside after spotting him a lead of several hundred miles.

At 10:44 a.m. local time (2144 GMT on the 8th), Garside was 253 miles from Auckland and making an average speed of 4 knots. At the same update, Van Liew was trailing the English sailor by just 14 miles and sailing at a tad over 6 knots. A glance at the COMSAT MobileTrac system used by race officials to track competitors shows that both sailors may be planning on giving Reinga a fairly wide berth. But they’d better be careful not to give away too many miles, for Russian skipper Viktor Yazykov was just 52 miles behind Van Liew at the latest report and making nearly 9 knots. By keeping in touch with the 50-foot skippers, Yazykov and his 40-footer Wind of Change have already made an indelible mark on Leg 2. Should Yazykov actually overtake either Garside or Van Liew on the final stretch, there may be a run on Stolichnaya vodka here in Auckland.

Van Liew certainly acknowledges his comrade’s presence. In a COMSAT email to race headquarters yesterday he wrote, ‘The day has been a little better with some light but consistent breeze this morning. I do see a frontal-looking band of clouds with a Russian (Yazykov) underneath off to the west. I am looking forward to leaving this place in the Tasman that I have gotten so used to.’ Van Liew should be around the top and on the back stretch later today. Garside is also well aware of what’s happening on the race course. In his most recent dispatch he wrote, ‘Brad and I keep giving up miles to each other at different times of the day. It’s like waiting for exam results as I tune in for the [four daily] position reports. If I gain a few miles I feel wonderful; if I lose a bunch I am in the depths of despair. The stress is taking its toll, I have to tell you! Right now I am paying the price of not using a spinnaker in no uncertain terms. Brad is sailing much deeper and faster than me as a result. But there just wasn’t time in my self-teach program to learn that totally new trick. It’s definitely a weakness in my armor I’m afraid to say.’ In fifth place, Shuten-dohji II skipper Minoru Saito continued to plug away today, and was 2,133 miles from Auckland at 2144 GMT. Saito leads a pack of five sailors who still have over 2.000 miles to go: Neal Petersen (2,207 miles Distance to Finish), Neil Hunter (2,552 DTF), Fedor Konioukhov (3,166 DTF), and Robin Davie (3,798 DTF). These competitors are now not only racing each other, they are also racing the clock. By race rules, to be eligible for Leg 3 all skippers must be in Auckland on January 30th, one week prior to the February 6th re-start.

Saito was clipping along at over 6 knots early today. In a message to race ops yesterday he said, ‘Today I have a not-bad day and also a not-good day. The weather is very light winds 10-12 knots, just a little bit sun-beam… Jan. 7th is the last day of the new year’s first week, and…we had a special gorgeous new year’s…meal. Anyway I want to have stronger winds, not this light winds. Maybe coming tonight?’ For Saito, a day with a strong following breeze is always a good-good one.