A look at the fourth week of the first leg of the 2001/2 Volvo Ocean Race

  • Dalton’s dream – with Dalton’s ace navigator calling the shots, Amer Sports One has taken control of the race

  • Playing with the highs – Assa Abloy’s decision to go it alone has cost her miles and possibly the race

  • Navigators’ nightmare – the complex south Atlantic weather system is easy to misjudge

  • Headboard car headache – SEB suffers with a second broken headboard car

  • Counting lollipops – can Team News Corp resolve their domestic problems?

The most significant factor about this week’s racing is the complete contrast to last week’s drag race. As soon as the leading five yachts rounded the second waypoint – Ilha Trindade – navigators had to contend with some of the most testing conditions so far. Like the doldrums two weeks before, crews had to make crucial decisions about how to tackle the complex weather situation that lay ahead. With vivid memories from the previous VOR when Grant Dalton’s Merit Cup lost out to the boats that tracked south at this point, Amer Sports One’s skipper knew exactly where he was going this time. “No question, no discussions,” he said, “I’m not making that mistake again, we’re heading south this time.” After such a determined statement it was surprising therefore to see Mr Dalton, following in the tracks of News Corp and Tyco, taking a quick hitch over to the east instead of following his instincts. “We did have a one and a half hour discussion about the tactics,” added Dalton, “and once Dee Smith [the navigator] convinced us it was the right short term thing to do, we went for it, tacked back on to starboard as soon as we could and found ourselves in the lead.” Needless to say, Smith was voted the ‘best decision maker of the week’ and is looking forward to a celebratory beer or two in Cape Town in seven day’s time.

Unless the weather gods shine down on Assa Abloy in the next few day, Mark Rudiger (navigator) will undoubtedly be keeping a low profile in Cape Town. Having held a top three position for the majority of the race it was surprising to see team Abloy make a major tactical error which cost them hundreds of miles and possibly the race. Having positioned themselves slightly further north-east after rounding Ilha Trindade they failed to pick up the shift the other leading boats tacked on and consequently ended up floundering under a high pressure zone while the others revelled in the fresher conditions south. “I have to apologise for Assa Abloy’s misfortune,” said Rudiger, “it looks like this navigator may arrive in Cape Town with a few more grey hairs.” Whatever happens now, Assa Abloy’s chance of a first leg win is now virtually impossible. She’s now 270 miles behind the leading yacht and, bearing in mind the run to Cape Town should be comparatively straight forward, Assa Abloy’s crew will have to pick up the pieces and guard there middle of the fleet position.

While it’s easy to lay blame over tactical errors, it must be remembered that in certain areas of the globe such as south Atlantic there is relatively little recorded weather information to go on, and in such a complex area where highs and lows converge, chosing the favourable track is a bit of a lottery. Take Illbruck who, having led the majority of the race through previous tricky conditions, lost her seemingly secure lead by opting to hold on a bit too long on one tack and losing everything. ‘It is like rounding the bottom mark with a handy lead,” says Mark Christensen (aboard Amer Sports One), “all information tells you that the left will pay but just to be careful you continue on port for a while before tacking onto starboard. When the second boat rounds you are now dead upwind and have control over both sides. After a while you look under the boom and see the whole fleet there apart from one boat that is on your stern line on the same tack. When you