Skippers consider weather for the Great Circle Route, but some skippers are being more secretive than others about what they are planning
Waypoint Alpha, the theoretical turning mark which was an option for the first leg has been abandoned after the North Atlantic ice patrol reports the ice limit further north than usual. The race committee’s decision opens up the possibility of shaping a Great Circle Route course direct to Boston via the coast of Newfoundland, and with that the tactics and weather strategy are changing.
Conrad Humphreys, the bookmaker’s race favourite and skipper of LG Flatron, has been busy much of this week researching weather patterns and historical information. He is working closely with top weather router Lee Bruce. “We’re treating the leg as three races,” he explains. “From here to Land’s End is one race and the first three or four days are going to be difficult in terms of tactics.”
At present it looks as if the boats will head out into light winds and that the first few days will be downwind. With a band of high pressure, it could be the boats that push hardest in the first 72 hours which get away from the pack, thinks Humphreys. However, later in the leg things could change. “There is a tropical cyclone off the Antilles that looks set to become a hurricane,” he says. “If so, it might curve north and give the fleet something to think about.”
One of the things many of the crews are thinking about is the film ‘The Perfect Storm’ currently running in cinemas here. A deflected hurricane while boats are near the Grand Banks? Sounds familiar. But the most likely reality is the exhaustion of lots of trimming and teaching as skippers try get the best speed from their yachts.
Winch power on the yachts is a factor in this, and therefore in how often crew on watch are rotated, believes Conrad Humphreys. “The winches are highly geared. You can be grinding a lot of winch without winding in much sheet, so the trimmers are going to have to be very on the ball. It will require good helming to help them out. There’ll be a lot of course changes.”
Some of the differences in style and approach of these relatively little-known skippers is beginning to emerge, and frankness in discussing key issues such as weather is one of the big variations. In complete contrast to Conrad Humphreys, Manley Hopkinson, skipper of Olympic Resources, is playing his cards very close to his chest. Yes, he is taking professional weather routeing before the start, but no he won’t say who from.
“It’s interesting,” he comments about the varying degrees of secrecy within the fleet. “As far as getting the boats ready and safety is concerned, I wouldn’t be secretive. When it comes to weather, yes completely. The elements of knowledge to do with the race I’ll certainly not share.”