Robin Davie catching Mike Garside, as Autissier catches first placed Thiercelin

Robin Davie glides over the equator more frequently than some folks cross their own state lines. This morning, Davie-who has already completed two Around Alones-had made his seventh equatorial crossing under sail. He joined overall leaders Marc Thiercelin in Class I, and Brad Van Liew in Class II, as the ninth member of the race’s Southern Hemisphere club. And he served notice that, as he gets more comfortable with his Bergstrom-designed 50-footer South Carolina, he aims to take his place among the frontrunners.

In a shoreside message yesterday Davie, a former merchant mariner, wrote, “With no alcohol on board it will be difficult to appropriately toast Neptune but then I have passed this way a few times-my seventh crossing by yacht, and too numerous to count on big ships, so I am sure [he] will like the variation and receive his toast of milk and tea in the spirit they are offered. No shortage of good things to do on board. Plenty of repairs and maintenance…sails to be constantly trimmed. Either way we hang on in there and still have our sights firmly set on those in front.” At the 0944 GMT position report, Davie was lying in fourth place and was nearly 400 miles behind leader Van Liew, who in turn was just four miles ahead of second-place skipper J.P. Mouligne. But Davie’s immediate sights were not set on the top placing, but on wounded third-place competitor Mike Garside. The English sailor, who has dropped out of contention for top honors on this leg due to keel problems, was just a shade over 200 miles ahead of Davie early today.

In Class I, Thiercelin’s edge over second place Isabelle Autissier was 39 miles at 0940 GMT. The Gang of Four at the front of the pack, which includes Brits Mike Golding and Josh Hall, were this morning struggling to keep their boats moving as they sailed in light, fluky winds ahead of a large, stalled cold front advancing off the coast of Brazil. Commanders’ Weather has forecast “light winds shifting from northeast to south-southwest and south-southeast” along the frontal zone. Autissier checked in with a brief note to race headquarters yesterday and said, “It is not normal to get this kind of soft front so [far] north. We should be in the trades.”

The frustrating weather picture may get stranger in the days ahead. With two South Atlantic high-pressure systems stationed well to the south of their usually reliable positions, the leaders must at least have given passing thought to working north, around the tops of the highs, on their winding path towards Cape Town. But there are dangers in this thinking. First, because the highs circulate counter-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, such a route would require a long transatlantic beat. And going to windward in a Finot Open 60 is generally a task to be avoided at all costs. Second, there is the real possibility that the breeze would die on the African side of the system, or that the entire high would drift north and strand the skippers midway across. At this point, only one thing is certain. Wherever leader Thiercelin goes, the others will follow. The strategy from here on in will be to stay in touch, to cover when necessary, and to hang with the gang. The leading quartet is simply too far along to attempt the sort of individual flyer Giovanni Soldini tried in the leg’s first week.

Autissier, whose forestay collapsed early on, reported that her jury-rig repair has once again allowed her to employ her large genoa: “The repair seems okay but I have to be very careful when using the genoa and I cannot beat [to windward] with it.” Like the others, Autissier longs for favorable, reaching winds. When she will find them is anyone’s guess.