Two Around Alone skippers divert to France for repairs and the fleet is again facing the brute force of an immense low

Two of the Around Alone skippers have had to divert to France for repairs. Simone Bianchetti, racing Tiscali (pictured left), has arrived in Brest with two broken mainsail battens and persistent autopilot problems. Another skipper is also diverting to make a pitstop but as yet the race organisers haven’t said which one.

Both will have to accept a penalty for taking outside assistance. After repairs, they must return to the position at which they retired and resume racing from there. A 48-hour penalty will be added to their time on this leg.

After an unpleasant and extremely windy first night at sea after the restart from Brixham on Monday, the skippers have been getting some respite in lighter winds and are well into the Bay of Biscay. With winds still predominantly from the south-west, most are making westing. Bernard Stamm and Graham Dalton are leading the pack and have been following a more direct course.

The present calm will be short-lived, as another deep low is forecast to arrive off the coast of Portugal in the next few days. The system is newly formed and immense: some 1,500 miles in diameter. Above is the forecast synoptic chart for late Friday, showing the centre of the low steadily intensifying to 980mb.

The skippers can expect headwinds of 40 or 50 knots again and the mood in the fleet is one of dread. This storm looks as if it will hit the slower yachts in Class 2 hardest, just as they are struggling to clear Finisterre. Hence the rush now to get as far west as possible.

This report today is from Graham Dalton on Hexagon:

‘I have recorded 62.4 knots at the masthead of Hexagon and do not predict this wind to subside until later this afternoon.

‘As most sailors find during their first days at sea, I am feeling tired and constantly unwell. All the competitors in this race are struggling with the conditions, I have recently heard Simone Bianchetti?is heading for the shore.

‘Having electrical problems of my own I went below decks and made a coffee to keep me going while fixing the problem. I removed my attention from the boats heading and situation and Hexagon’s mast was slammed down to horizontal by a huge gust of wind. Now I have coffee on the ceiling to add to my mess below decks. As you can imagine doing anything at all is extremely difficult in these conditions.

‘I have two reefs in my mainsail to make it as small as possible. Despite this I am hammering along at 22knots. The only sensations I have from this speed are the howl of the boat and the instrument readings. It is far too dangerous to be on deck so I have wedged myself in the navigation area and am constantly watching my instruments, relying on them to warn me of what lies ahead.’

Brad Van Liew, leading Class 2 in his Open 50 Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America, writes:

‘The big low is approaching. The monster on its way towards the fleet is a serious issue. It covers half the north Atlantic and will bring headwinds from the south-west while we are trying to get south along a very rugged Spanish and Portuguese coast. I am concerned, and with the e-mails I have been getting from the rest of the fleet and race organizers, I can say with all confidence that I’m not alone in my concern.

‘In the meantime, I will give Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America a thorough check. I will also try to get some rest and locate my little world in a spot where we will have some room to maneuver this massive storm.’