Yesterday Kingfisher’s co-skipper Ellen MacArthur complained that during the previous night her boat had lost ground when it nosed into the current. She said she calculated that the current was pushing against Kingfisher at about 1.5 knots: she had found the edge of the Gulf Stream.
Today, Ecover’s Mike Golding also reported that he had strayed into the current. “We pushed some Gulf Stream for a few hours last night,” said Golding this morning. “As I watch the position reports it’s obvious that all the boats are getting in and out of the bad current.”
The current forms a part of the rotation that stirs the North Atlantic clockwise. Starting off Florida, the Gulf Stream moves north up the eastern seaboard of USA, then heads northeast past Cape Cod and towards Newfoundland.
Here the cold, southeast moving Labrador Current meets the warm, northeast moving Gulf Stream, creating excellent fishing grounds over Grand Banks and impermeable fogs. Once headed away from the North American coast, the current splits. Most continues towards the channel between Iceland and the Scotland as the North Atlantic Drift, and some blends with cooler water around the Canaries to form the Canaries Current.
The circle is completed as the Canaries Current warms while heading south, then heads west towards Florida as the North Equatorial Current, where the Gulf Stream begins.
Race router Ken Campbell explains the tactical situation: “The four up there (Sill, Kingfisher, Ecover and Fila) may touch the current today. It is up around 43N just east of 45 so they could skim it today,” said Ken Campbell of Commanders’ Weather Corp. “What they will do is come down between the Gulf Stream and Nova Scotia coastline. Then they will try to come down the New Jersey and Maryland shorelines and stay out of the current completely.”
All this naturally assumes the weather will play ball and not bombard them with a series of deep lows spinning out of the American midwest and Great Lakes. Hugging the coast while The Perfect Storm approaches is not recommended.
Gartmore’s fate will be sealed in the next few days. Despite good progress recently, skipper Josh Hall’s race seemed to end several days ago in strategic terms, when he left the leaders and headed southwest.
“Things could still work out for Gartmore,” said Campbell, “but frankly, I’m puzzled by his course. He is really penned in down there now. Gartmore is on the south side of the Gulf Stream. He will have to cross it, and will probably try to do so just west-northwest of Bermuda. But, in the meantime if the winds force him onto a starboard tack he will get right into the current, and if he stays on a port tack too long he will end up stuck in the high to his south.”
Will the weather throw Gartmore a line? Campbell predicts 25-35 knot southwesterlies for tomorrow, which means port tack. “Therefore, he will have to decide which risk to take. He has the high pressure south of him and the Gulf Stream to the north of him.”
Meanwhile, Ecover is piling on the pressure, gaining hour by hour on Kingfisher’s transom and reeling in Sill. Unfortunately, if the forecast for the next two days is right, that progress will be pounded away by upwind work, not Ecover’s best side.
Onboard Fila, Scarabelli and his crew are struggling to stay in touch with the three leaders. Their shredded main has severely challenged their progress and Scarabelli has little faith in what’s left of the sail. “Our mainsail repair is holding fine,” Scarabelli said this morning. “Right now we have three reefs in the sail when I would prefer to have just two, but I don’t trust the sail.”