The heat is back on as the Global Challenge leaders regroup - but what's going on at the back of the fleet?
As Australian skipper Matt Riddell and his crew on Samsung doggedly preserve a meagre lead of 5 miles in the Global Challenge, Save the Children has fallen nearly 300 miles behind. That represents a performance deficit of 10 per cent on the distance sailed so far, yet the fleet is less than halfway to Buenos Aires. The pressures felt by this crew may be even more intense than by the frontrunners.
Save the Children have trailed the fleet since the first week, and have steadily been slipping back until they are a day-and-a-half behind the leaders. They have had two broken spinnakers, but their track also shows that they’ve sailed the greatest distance so far, and on a boat in which 9 knots’ boatspeed is a high average, diversions are extremely hard to make pay. The shortest distance nearly always proves to be the fastest.
This crew won’t need a team talk to realise that although the yachts are about to concertina in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), the frontrunners will probably pick up the new Trades before them and stretch away again. They know they’re going to need a helping of good luck to creep back into the pack.
The effects of being last can already be divined from Save the Children’s daily logs on the Global Challenge website, where several comments have been made about strategy. It’s a safe guess that skipper Paul Kelly and his crew are wrestling with disappointment.
As for the leaders, they are gradually regrouping on the run towards the Equator. Next comes tactical positioning for the ITCZ. This fluctuates unpredictably north of the Equator, but at the moment it dips to form a narrower band at about 28°W and the Global Challenge crews have been making a little more westing to cross in this vicinity.
Weather charts also show a string of convective storms along this belt. They usually hit suddenly and winds can easily reach 40 knots. Squalls are accompanied by rapid windshifts, so quick headsail changes and reefs will be crucial to prevent sail damage. Crews may have to work harder here than ever before.
Skippers will probably try to gain some miles by hitching a ride on these squalls, but they can be a mixed blessing. Thunderstorms suck in air from all around and after they’ve passed the wind often drops away to dead calm.
This all adds up to frustration. It’s week three, and every day someone, somewhere is going to get cantankerous. In the humid conditions ahead, disagreements will flare up. The ‘Line-crossing’ ceremonies as the yachts leave the northern hemisphere later this week (our forecast is for a heavy downpour of porridge stories) will take the heat off temporarily. But the odds are that a few people are already wondering if racing round the world is really for them.