Rob Salthouse is a man of the sea, as befits someone who answers to "Salty'' and has a pair of hands with the consistency of a wire brush.

But despite his many years of sailing experience including eight Sydney to Hobart races, four America's Cups and three Volvo Ocean Races, he still hasn't found a formula for keeping weight on when at sea for days on end.

Salthouse, 45, the driver and trimmer for Emirates Team New Zealand's Camper boat in the Volvo race, has, like the rest of his teammates, the drawn and tired look of someone who has been through a demanding physical ordeal, and this despite being in Auckland for several days.

That is the result of spending 20 days doing hard physical labour in four-hour watches within the confines of a VO70 speed machine.


"That's the nature of the race. You start the race and you burn calories way in excess of what you can put back on. In general terms we're all looking pretty thin,'' Salthouse said.

"I started the race at 92kg and lost eight and a half kilos in the first leg. That's pretty good for me _ in the first two races I lost 12kg in the first leg. I've got myself back to 88kg at the moment, hopefully I can get another kilo on before I start on Sunday.

"Probably in this race I've eaten more food than I ever have in past races. Every off watch I'll come down and have a meal. I'm probably working harder at keeping that body mass on, but you work hard on deck and it just falls off you again.''

"Work'' is one way of putting it. Cruel and unusual punishment could be another and that is what springs to mind when a repair job is needed on the boat.

Salthouse, a sail maker by trade, was the ideal man to have on board when Camper tore a sail in the last leg from Sanya to China. Cue, for him, a lot more work below deck.

"I did four hours on watch, came off watch and did a 10-hour repair and I think I had to finish another three hours on the next watch when I came back up so that's 17 hours on the go.

"You're just burning calories the whole time. I think even in the bunk, when you're asleep at times you're bracing your body more than you normally would so you're probably burning calories at that stage too.''

But the tiredness and the hunger are nothing on being constantly wet, said Salthouse.

"The whole package combined makes it really tough. This last leg we were constantly damp and wet _ either through just getting hosed the whole time with the tight reaching or coming down through the tropics and across the Equator and getting drenched in sweat, so that for me is probably the hardest part.

"If you can't get dry it's miserable and I don't think I've ever been as wet as I've been this last leg.''

Unfortunately for Salthouse there is a lot more of that to come. On Sunday the six-boat fleet will leave Auckland for Brazil which will entail entering a Southern Ocean which will be whipped up more than usual by impending high winds. Being drenched in sweat isn't likely to be a problem.

But for Camper, third overall, it's a chance to put the reliable boat into heavy conditions where it is best suited. Hopes are high for a first leg win of the race to even things up.

"Conditions-wise we have to be ready for anything and that's one thing I think this team has done really well,'' Salthouse said. "The way the boat and rig is set up, we've tested the boat very well. We've spent the winter doing our testing in New Zealand which means we met a lot of bad weather at times. We know we're robust, but again with these boats you still have to take care of them.''