The leaders may be once again delayed by an area of high pressure between them and the finish. This may pay for Goldini, Hall and Soldini to the sout of the leaders.
As it has been so often on this long, strange trip called Leg 1 of the Around Alone race, the weather today is again the main story as the leaders set up for the backstretch dash to the finish off Cape Town. At the 0940 GMT update today, the Class I quartet of Isabelle Autissier, Marc Thiercelin, Mike Golding and Josh Hall were continuing to set a relentless pace with average boatspeeds ranging between 12- and 13 knots. Autissier, Thiercelin and Golding each had less than 1,000 miles to sail. But to paraphrase the latest forecast from Commanders’ Weather, “Not so fast, mates.” The sweet ride is predicted to soon come to an end.
Here’s Commanders’ take on the upcoming 72-hour weather picture for the lead skippers, a scenario that continues to be dominated by an uncooperative South Atlantic high-pressure ridge. Thursday: “Mushy, sprawling high between 32-38S/0-20W [with] lots of screwy winds.” Friday: “Big high moves east [in concert with the leaders] and weakens from 32-37S/0-10E. Large area of just about any wind direction and light speed in the middle of this box.” Saturday: “High pressure continues to spread out between 40S and Cape Town. Tough to find the center of this high, but it will elongate across rhumb line [the direct path to the finish].” Translation: Mother Nature’s about to switch off the fan. The party’s over.
Or is it? Thus far the Class I racers have continued to enjoy wind where, according to the weather maps, wind should not be. This morning, the top five boats were in spread formation, with the leading pack of Autissier, Thiercelin and Golding flying down the middle while Hall was flanked to their north and Giovanni Soldini was set up well to the south. Hall’s plan to cut the high and reduce his mileage has thus far not paid dividends; he was 145 miles behind Golding early today. Soldini, who has displayed his gambler’s heart time and again on Leg 1, has once again split away in search of his own private breeze. For Soldini, Friday’s forecast holds a ray of hope: “Westerlies will appear around 36S and the further south you are, the stronger they will be.” Soldini, currently at 39S, has thrown down his last card. Only time will tell if it was a winner.
Yesterday, Autissier wrote, “Now the weather is fairly clear and cold. The wind is still out of the northwest, but dropping. That’s a drag, because since I’m in the lead I’m heading for an area of slackening wind, while [Golding] is catching up. [Thiercelin] must have fixed his mainsail, since he seems to be moving well again.” And Golding, who reported yesterday that he’d had to back the sails aboard Team Group 4 and put her in reverse to clear a 40-foot “lifting strop” from his keel, added, “The way the weather is shaping up it’s certainly not a done deal yet and I still have a shot at getting to Cape Town ahead of [Autissier and Thiercelin].” Golding was just 18 miles behind Thiercelin, and 41 miles astern of Autissier at 0940 GMT.
In Class II, J.P. Mouligne held a 24-mile edge over Brad Van Liew at 0944 GMT. But both sailors reportedly suffered damage to their mainsails when overtaken by a passing cold front. Mouligne said, “The bad news is that I now have a bad tear in my beautiful Kevlar mainsail at the first reef. The sail split vertically as I was setting the first reef in. I am back to the second reef and [sailing] underpowered to ease the load.” And this from Van Liew: “I have just spent all afternoon in a sail-mending race with J.P. I actually had two [rips], one at the leech which was about one-and-a-half-feet and the other in the center [that] was about three feet. Both of the tears were below the second reef and above the first.” With light airs waiting ahead, the winner of the “sail-mending race” may well hold a huge advantage in the challenging days ahead.