Ericsson struggles while, at the other end of the VOR fleet, ABN AMRO One makes the most of her healthy lead on the approach to Cape Horn 1/3/06

As the yachts in the Volvo Ocean Race pass below the 500 mile mark to the scoring gate at Cape Horn, the sailors carry on sending in honest accounts of what life really is like at the extreme.

Ericsson Racing Team (Neal McDonald) has had another bad day, falling into last position, as the young guns on ABN AMRO TWO (Sebastien Josse) passed them at 1000 GMT today. In the past six hours the Dutch boat has managed to extend it’s lead by three miles undoubtedly forcing the Ericsson Racing Team further into depression. Steve Hayles, the team’s navigator, described the mental struggle bad position reports can have on a sailor in his latest log.

“Every six hours, for what seems like forever, I have waited in anticipation for the position results, only to see that we have lost yet more miles. There are lots of columns of information that come in the ‘sched’, but the gains and losses column is the one you look to first.

“A simple number like -6 can quite literally affect how you feel physically; after a bad sched (something we have had too many of recently). You stare at the screen in disbelief as you feel your shoulders tension up but after a few minutes you realise that there’s no asking for a recount or having a second try; that six hours are over and you lost six miles; end of story.

“It’s like ‘torture by numbers’ and its extremely effective apart from the fact that whilst we are still racing, there are always future opportunities and just as a -6 can instantly make you regret your choice of career, so a positive number can brighten up even the coldest of Southern Ocean days. You have to be professional and avoid making emotionally charged decisions; the calls you make when you are going fast are easy and often way less important than the ones you make when you’re on the back foot.”

Skipper Neal McDonald added this in a radio interview today: “We’re hating it. We are not really completely sure why, but we do seem to be losing out on any of the high speed stuff. We don’t know whether we have a problem under the boat – we don’t think so. But certainly, the last four or five days it has just been a slow, gradual process of being beaten up by everyone around us. We are not very happy with that and ABN AMRO TWO has overtaken us as well and that was the last straw. We’re not very happy at the moment.”

On the other hand the ABN AMRO TWO crew is very happy, finally making up ground on the fleet and putting their gear failures behind them. Simon Fisher described the environment surrounding them as they make their move slowly to the south of all the other teams. Are the young guns trying something different to get back into front pack again?

“The wind is steadily building outside, by nightfall hopefully we will have 30 knots and really be hauling. So far today it has been great sailing for this part of the world, 25 knots, nice waves and a crisp dry air which makes a pleasant change from the thick rain and fog which seems to be the norm down here. The lack of fog and dry air has encouraged people to stay outside as long as they can and we have seen some interesting combinations of gloves and hats, multiples thereof in most cases in order to enjoy the yachting on deck.”

The leading pack formation has become very clear in the past few days. Brasil 1 (Torben Grael) is the most northerly of the pack and ABN AMRO ONE (Mike Sanderson) is the most southerly, with Pirates (Paul Cayard) and movistar (Bouwe Bekking) dog fighting in the middle. In the past six hours the two sandwiched yachts have swapped positions back and forth but currently The Black Pearl is only 2.7 nautical miles directly to the north of Bouwe Bekking and his team. The north south divide of the leading pack is only a mere 63 nautical miles.