Racing couldn't get much closer for Global Challenge boats in the Southern Pacific

Five of the yachts are racing so close in the midst of the Southern Ocean that two of the yachts nearly collided yesterday.

Eero Lehtinen, skipper of SAIC La Jolla comments: “Unbelievable fleet racing in the middle of Southern Pacific as five of us (boats) are within three miles lined up reaching west in fresh southerly winds. Before the wind shift as we were still beating we had a close port/starboard situation with Samsung where we cleared their bow only a few boat lengths ahead of them, of course on port tack.

“Funny thing is that in case of a protest situation there would have been three witnesses to choose from. Instead happy waving and cheering was exchanged from boat to boat. Fantastic to have such a close race, the crew is more motivated than ever before!”

Out in the lead is Spirit of Sark, determined to hang on to their slim lead: “Once again we are in and out of light airs and are losing miles and then gaining them back on a regular basis. As a result we have BG Spirit and BP on our heels.

“They appear to be following us and attempting to grind us down. We are all determined for this not to happen. We have been racing for about 4,000 miles and have been in the front for at least half of it. We are a focused and robust crew that will do our utmost to deter any attempt to alter the front position, whatever the weather.”

Snapping hard is BP Explorer in second, 27 miles behind, currently match racing with BG SPIRIT – a further two miles behind. Just 12 miles behind BG SPIRIT is VAIO with SAIC La Jolla another 24 miles back. There is then just five miles separating the next five yachts, with positions swapping by the hour between SAIC La Jolla, Barclays Adventurer, Me to You, Samsung and Team Save the Children (5,6,7,8,9th respectively).

As James Allen, skipper of Me to You comments: “Still sight of several yachts so match racing with them, while generally trying to head direct for Wellington but also drop south a little to line up for more favourable winds in a couple of days.”

Conditions have been relatively calm over the past day or so, causing the front yachts to ‘park up’ – frustrating for the lead yachts but excellent for the back runners. Barclays Adventurer actually described the Southern Ocean as a ‘millpond’ – explaining that the conditions ‘out there’ were really quite bizarre, although giving plentiful respite to the crews.

It is not surprising that the unpredictable conditions have been a cause of frustration to the fleet as Dee Caffari, skipper of Imagine It. Done. Explains: “We have been becalmed, and we have been in 30 knots of breeze. We have had rain and we have had sun. We have been sailing downwind and we have been sailing upwind. We have had the biggest sails up and the smallest sails up. We definitely have not had the notorious weather of the Southern Ocean yet. We have had sneak previews but nothing to make your toes curl.”

Over the next 24 hours the wind will stay in the west and steadily increase to around 20 knots. Thursday should see the low-pressure system to the south and the east, which will intensify bringing winds of 30 knots, with squalls of 40 knots, predominately from the south-west.

There could be other things to look out for, apart from clawing the miles in the mild weather, as Anthony Campbell exerts in his daily log from Team Save the Children: “To top skipper Paul’s day off, he has just showed me an email from the emergency maritime centre in NZ warning of a dangerous area in the Southern Ocean, not far from where we are.

“To use the precise words in the email it says “area temporarily dangerous due to falling spacecraft”- if it’s not one thing it’s another!!”

Fleet positions

Spirit of Sark 2,220 miles to the finish

BP Explorer 2,247 miles to the finish

BG SPIRIT 2,249 miles to the finish

VAIO 2,261 miles to the finish

SAIC La Jolla 2,285 miles to the finish

Barclays Adventurer 2,286 miles to the finish

Me to You 2,288 miles to the finish

Samsung 2,288 miles to the finish

Team Save the Children 2,290 miles to the finish

Imagine It. Done 2,338 miles to the finish

Pindar 2,496 miles to the finish

Team Stelmar 4,106 miles to the finish