* The halyards are ready to be hoisted as the single-handed sailors in the BOC Challenge around-the-world race leave tomorrow from Cape Town, South Africa, for Sydney, Australia.

The strategy for almost all the 17 male competitors left in the race is simple: try to cut into the huge lead of Frenchwoman Isabelle Autissier, who won the first leg of the race by five days and eight hours.

Autissier, the only woman in the race, says her strategy is simple, too: ``not to take too much risk'' in the stormy Southern Ocean and to try to avoid making mistakes.

American Steve Pettengill, in second place after the first leg, says he views the next leg as a chance to make up some of the time on Autissier. ``It's not really possible to make up all the time on this one leg alone, because this course is more of a given,'' he explains in a telephone interview from Cape Town.

The boats will head south-southeast until they hit westerly winds, then sail due east.

Three competitors still at sea on the first leg will start at a later date.

The key to winning the next leg is to plot a course that stays on the northern edge of the low-pressure systems and the southern side of the high-pressure cells. All the competitors get the same weather information, including real-time satellite photos from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The racers must interpret the photos themselves.

This course is guaranteed to be much rougher than the first leg. Winds are expected to be above 25 knots most of the time, and hurricane-force winds are possible. ``The guys who back off are the ones who won't do so well,'' says Pettengill, who is sailing Hunter's Child, a 60-foot yacht, in the race's largest class. On the first leg, Pettengill had the best single day, logging 315 miles.

This leg will be harder on the boats, which will be surfing down giant seas. In the relatively calm first leg, Autissier's boat had significant damage, including a broken boom, a ripped mainsail, and blown-out sails. She did not communicate any of her problems, however - part of the race's gamesmanship.

``If the other boats knew she was damaged, the person behind would push harder to close the gap, so you don't always let people know your problems,'' Pettengill explains.

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