The race committee announces its intention to protest seven yachts

Controversy swept the Global Challenge fleet this afternoon as seven of the 12 yacht crews were informed of the race committee’s intention to protest them for a rules infringement. The committee believes that Barclays, BG Spirit, BP Explorer, Save the Children, Pindar, SAIC and Team Stelmar all disobeyed the general sailing instructions by cutting across the Ushant Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) on day two of the race.

“The general sailing instructions refer to Rule 10 of the Collision Regulations,” says Matthew Ratsey, Challenge Business technical director and a member of the race committee. Rule 10 b (ii) states that vessels should ‘so far as practicable keep clear of a traffic separation line or separation zone’.

“From plots we can see some boats clearly made a conscious effort to avoid it, and we have others which blatantly did not,” comments Ratsey. “We have definite plots of three of them in the TSS. With the others there are plots effectively on either side, but until we get their logs we can’t be sure. We will have 24 hours after the boats get to Buenos Aires to examine the logs and lodge a protest.”

The international jury will hear the protest in Buenos Aires. If it is upheld, they may choose to dock a point from teams, one point being equivalent to one place. Juries often favour a softly softly approach to infringements on ocean races – think of the £1,000 fine illbruck received during the last Volvo Ocean Race for breaking class rules by fixing a weed cutting device to the S-drive – but ignoring a rule that underlines the Collision Regulations would seem to be a much more serious offence.

Whatever the outcome, these seven crews have another pressure-cooker month at sea in which to rue the potential consequences.

This morning the race gained a new leader as David Melville and crew on BP Explorer pinched the lead from Isle of Sark. Yesterday, Isle of Sark broke their 1.5oz spinnaker, which tore across the head and ripped down the tapes. The Sark crew will be busy stapling it back together in the next couple of days.

The fleet has been sailing fast downwind in the last 24 hours, racing towards a low pressure system off Portugal which is intensifying and is forecast to deepen to 985mb by midnight tonight. By this time the yachts should have reached the south-western quadrant and will be broad reaching into decreasing winds. As they do, they will meet lumpy beam seas and life will temporarily be less comfortable.

Today’s position reports illustrate a variety of tactics, with two distinct packs forming: one to the west, headed by Matt Riddell and crew on Samsung; the others to the east and closer to the rhumb line, headed by BP Explorer and Isle of Sark.

The aim in both cases is get far enough west to sail over the top of approaching low and down its western flank, so keeping in favourable winds, yet not so far west as to add unnecessary miles. In the next 12 hours we will see if the eastern group have managed to shape a course that skirts lighter winds near the centre of the low.

This weekend, it looks like the fleet will be fast reaching, which will be hard on gear and stressful for crew. Only the most adept helmsmen will be used and, at this early stage of the race, those are going to be few and far between. To add to their difficulties, the waning moon will be rising later and later in the morning, so during the night helmsmen will have the horrid job of trying to anticipate waves in pitch darkness.