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EDITIONS
Sunday, 19 April, 1998, 01:41 GMT 02:41 UK
Race guide to the ocean challenge
The Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race is one of the most gruelling challenges on the sporting calendar.

Competitors have to contend with towering seas, icebergs, boiling heat and cramped conditions during the nine months it takes to sail 32,000 miles around the globe.

And there is no release from the pressure of race conditions. The crew of up to 12 people have to grab sleep in four-hour snatches, huddled in between sailing and navigation equipment in the 60ft boats. To save weight they are also severely restricted in what they can take on board.

The competition began in 1973 and is staged every four years. Yacht design has improved so much that boats can reach speeds of around 24 knots although efforts to reduce weight occasionally lead to breakages.

This year 10 boats entered the race which left Southampton on September 21, bound for Cape Town.

The first leg covered 7,350 nautical miles and the fleet was expected to take about 30 days to complete the dash south though most took more than 32 days. Distances between ports can vary immensely as yachts take different routes in the search for the strong winds that will speed their progress.

For the first time this year the race rules have been altered to a points scoring system instead of the total time taken to circumnavigate the globe.

The idea is to flatten out margins between boats and allow a series of contests within the overall race. It will give the yachts finishing a long way behind the lead boat on any leg the opportunity to launch a realistic comeback in the next stage and keep the leaders on their toes.

America's Challenge dropped out of the race after finishing seventh on the first leg.

The fleet is expected back in Southampton around May 24, 1998, after stopovers in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, the United States and France.

The crew get a brief respite between legs and a chance to make repairs to their craft.

Nine teams are left in the race and they are:-

1 EF Language
2 Merit Cup
3 Innovation Kvaerner
4 Silk Cut
5 Chessie Racing
6 Toshiba
7 Swedish Match
8 EF Education
9 BrunelSunergy

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