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Down The Mine

By Tim Zimmermann

Courtesy of Club Med

"We are in It," Club Med skipper Grant Dalton announced. "The weather is horrible, very, very wet and trying conditions. It is ugly sailing. This is a bad part of the world." By "It" Dalton could only mean one thing: the unforgiving Southern Ocean that seethes around Antarctica, where howling winds and mountainous waves relentlessly erase any distinction between terror and exhilaration.

Club Med led the advance into The Race's most dangerous phase, with 10,000 miles of treacherous water to cross before the mega-cats round Cape Horn and return to the relative safety of the Atlantic and the home stretch. Cam Lewis and his Team Adventure followed, in hot pursuit, with Innovation Explorer cruelly delayed by a capricious high pressure bubble of light winds hundreds of miles astern. Warta-Polpharma and Team Legato trailed by thousands of miles, but were content to continue their slow and steady march around the globe knowing full well that anything could happen once their fragile hi-tech cousins faced the relentless storms of the Deep South for the first time.

Team Adventure made its Southern Ocean debut with typical flair, running off almost 615 miles in 24 hours to set a new Race record and apply some heat to race leader Club Med. Dalton, as competitive as they come, flicked on the afterburners as well, but worried that Cam Lewis was setting a killing pace. "This is a very unforgiving place to those [read: Team Adventure] who think they are out on a short offshore race. It will bite back unless treated with a lot of respect," he commented to Race HQ in a thinly veiled warning (or was it a plea?).

Whatever it was, Lewis should have listened. On Thursday, the hard-charging Team Adventure stuck her bows deep into the back of a wave at 25 knots. Southern Ocean sailors call it "going down the mine" and at double digit speeds it is not unlike a car wreck. The rig bending deceleration sent the crew tumbling like skittles across the trampoline and into bulkheads (one suffered a neck injury, another badly bruised hips). The 140-foot mast remained standing. But the impact of running Team Adventure's main beam at speed into what designers refer to as "hard water" blew open the beam's outer layers of carbon fiber skin and ruptured an internal bulkhead. With a damaged boat and damaged sailors, Lewis made the inevitable decision and informed Race HQ that he was headed for Cape Town, South Africa--1100 miles to the northeast--for repairs.

PlayStation's retirement early in the week and Lewis's Cape Town pit stop-which will cost Team Adventure multiple days and possibly thousands of miles-leaves Club Med in full control of The Race. Innovation Explorer is still a threat, but is a full weather system and more than 500 miles in arrears. That allows Dalton, for the first time since the start of The Race, to throttle back a notch in an effort to preserve his boat and crew. Still, Dalton has sailed the Southern Ocean enough to remain suitably nervous. Club Med has already plowed into the back of a wave once herself (survived intact) and had her trampoline ripped up by the force of the water hosing through it. Despite the fact that it is summer in the Southern Ocean, Club Med has also found herself dodging multiple icebergs. "This was always going to be a race of attrition," Dalton observed. "It could be our turn to break something in a few hours time."

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