“It’s cold, colder than I have ever known it before in my life,” chattered Compaq’s Glenda Porter through rattling teeth. “We even had ice, hail on the deck two days ago.”

This is the latest twist in the Southern Ocean section of the BT Global Challenge 2000-01. With 3,500nm left before Cape Town, LG Flatron has extended her lead to 131nm from second-placed Logica. Behind Logica, the racing is a good deal closer, with just 74nm between Logica and Spirit of Hong Kong, 11th. Veritas, after her detour to Eden to land her wounded, is still 50nm off the pack pace.

“We’re having a bouncy old time of it down here,” said Manley Hopkinson, skipper of Olympic Group and currently eighth. “It is quite a different ocean from the last Southern Ocean leg. There appears to be more of a pronounced swell, with some gigantic rogue waves crashing into the party uninvited. We have had more sunshine and more predictable frontal weather. No albatross so far, though.”

As the temperature plummets, Logica’s Doug Webb reported: “We do not have a deck thermometer but I can safely say the wind chill is well below zero and we are generally working shifts on deck of between 30 minutes and one hour maximum – unless of course a sail change is needed, which is quite often at the moment.”

The variable breeze is a definite feature of this leg and the entire sail wardrobe on each boat is getting plenty of use. Sail storage on deck is a normal procedure but, as seen in the previous Whitbread, a few decent waves taken at speed and all that lovely cloth will be consigned to Davey Jones, probably with a stanchion or two thrown in. Such is the fate of Norwich Union.

“Losing our No1 Yankee is a bit like a car losing second gear out of its gearbox,” explained Norwich Union’s Steve Kitt. “In winds of between 16 and 24 knots the No1 is the foresail to have up. As a result of this loss we estimate we will lose approximately 0.75kn of boat speed when the No1 would have been used.” Sir Chay will add to their woes on arrival with a stack of penalty points for losing valuable kit.

LG Flatron excepted, this has been a keenly-fought leg with no-one daring to take the flyer that could make or break their leg (with apologies to Charlie Smith). If we were looking for a bad leg thus far, then it would be Compaq’s. Placed second overall, her job was to beat, or at least keep tabs on, LG Flatron and with a string of fourth places and a third in previous legs, they were doing fine. In this leg, Compaq is ninth and could well lose her coveted second place to BP, third overall and currently sixth, or fifth, not counting Save the Children.

All is not lost however, and skipper Will Oxley knows what’s happened and what’s required: “Our main competition LG Flatron slipped away from us on the east coast of Tasmania while we sat in the ‘mother of all holes’. Yachts passed us to both our east and west, which was rather frustrating to say the least. So, we dusted ourselves off while in 10th place and are now proceeding to work our way back up the fleet, as we have done previously.”

If that seems a little casual, don’t be fooled. Oxley is one of the few skippers to have rumbled this one-design malarky. “As with most of the other legs I believe that this leg will only be decided in the last two days or so. Essentially then, we have to sail 37 days just so that we can have a day race at the end!”

Among the fast learners is Quadstone’s Richard Chenery, taking part in his first competitive leg after replacing the out-going Alex Phillips. After a low key start, the Quadstone machine is glowing orange once again. “We are creeping up through the fleet and working hard. I think we have got our act together now and are sailing the boat very well. We have already been through two tough fronts of heavy weather, which everyone handled very well and we made good gains during these periods.