A look at the fifth week of the first leg of the 2001/2002 Volvo Ocean Race

  • One tack, one chance – Trindade was make or break time

  • Illbruck reigns supreme – one down, eight legs to go. Can John Kostecki’s Illbruck team retain the edge?

  • Taste of victory for Dalton – finishing second is probably the best thing to have happened to Grant Dalton’s team aboard Amer Sports One

  • All time low – crews are beginning to suffer with exhaustion and lack of food

  • Mounting disasters for SEB – with more sail fixing problems team SEB must be wondering what they’ve done to deserve their string of bad luck

Having rounded the final way point of Trindade, the complex weather systems virtually turned the race upside down. Illbruck, the pre-race favourite, lost her lead to Amer Sports One, and Assa Abloy, consistently in the top three, blew it on one tack and ended up nearly 300 miles behind the leader. The only consistent racing, albeit slow, took place at the back of the fleet between Team SEB, Djuice Dragons and Amer Sports Too. But as they were to find out, north was not a fast route.

Choosing the right track at this stage of the race was crucial. Unlike earlier in race where tactical mistakes could be rectified, here there was no room for error – it was effectively the last big chance before Cape Town. Those at the back were shut out of the race in light headwinds, while the the likes of Dalton and Kostecki and Jez Fanstone (Team News Corp) further to the south revelled in the building, fresh southerlies which took them on a screaming broad reach towards Cape Town.

As the most well-prepared, well-sailed boat in the fleet, it was not surprising to see Illbruck taking control of the race almost from day one. Making the least mistakes in a race is undoubtedly the key to success and it was here where team Illbruck showed their true colours. They sailed the boat like an oversized racing dinghy with every manoeuvre as good as the next. Proof of this came on the final sprint to the finish line when they were able to overhaul Dalton just when it really mattered and clocked up their first win of the series.

However, despite team Illbruck’s cool exterior about Amer Sports One’s close shave with victory, the Illbruck team must be concerned about the potential of Dalton’s boat. The fact is, they were almost beaten by the wild card of the fleet, the most ill-prepared boat in the race with its dodgy halyard fixing and makeshift sails. And bearing in mind the forthcoming Southern Ocean leg with its big rolling seas and storm-Force following winds, the sort of conditions Dalton’s beamy Frers design should revel in, he’s going to be a hard man to beat.

Finishing second on the first leg is probably the best thing to have happened to him. Against all odds, he’s had a taste of glory at the head of the fleet and only really lost out to Illbruck when he was unable to demonstrate the boat’s full potential due to a broken halyard lock and less than efficient sails. “In some ways winning this leg would have been a bad thing for us. We were not disappointed to come second at all,” commented Dalton. “If we’d won this leg we might have started to think we were pretty special and we’re not special at all.” Speaking to Grant Dalton just before the start in Southampton five weeks ago, it was clear that the first leg will be used as gauge “we”ll use the first leg to judge our performance,” he said, “win, lose or draw, we’ve got to go faster after that.” Like all teams, Amer Sports One will be spending the next few weeks preparing for the start of the next leg on 11 November. The experience gained from the first leg will be used to fine tune the boats for the next. Broken equipment and damaged sails will be replaced and crews will have the chance to re-charged their batteries in prep