Westerly yachts make some gains and heat on board takes its toll

Logica still leads the BT Challenge fleet as the crews thread their yachts through the light winds and squalls of the Doldrums. Behind them, and also at the eastern side, are Compaq and Isle of Man. But while the remainder are well spread out, lighter winds are starting to compact the fleet. Those in the middle fared worst again yesterday, while the crews to the west had some of the highest daily runs.

That was not enough to gain overall leaders FLATRON any places. They are still lying 7th but have closed the gap to Logica to 155 miles. For them and others further the west, the next few days are crucial. All the yachts have westing to make to clear the coast of Africa, but none more so than the three leading boats, in particular Logica, which has been making a course east of north. There is a danger – or a chance, depending on your perspective – that they may get boxed in along the African coast. That’s what the more westerly skippers must be hoping for, anyway.

Meanwhile, conditions on board vary from pleasant night sailing to suffocating heat during the day, as Stephen Breen of BP Explorer describes: ‘The radar is on and the squalls are rolling in. During daylight hours we see them coming a long way off, determine their strength and usually avoid them. At night it is like a game of cat and mouse. We’re carrying our light weight 0.75 spinny, which is still flying thanks to our handy repairs and the grace of god. A 30-knot killer squall will destroy it in seconds.

‘We are trying to nurse BP Explorer along. We hitched a ride on a tropical wave last night and were moving nicely under 0.75 spinnaker when we spotted a huge squall appearing over the horizon. Sure enough it was on radar and as it approached the wind veered 180°. Expecting a blow we dropped the kite on the deck, whipped it down the forehatch ready for another quick hoist.

‘In the meantime, up went the yankee 1 and staysail and we were off, clocking up 10 knots for an hour so so. The rain lashed down on us but we were moving fast and in the right direction. We were soaking in seconds but nobody cared. Soon it was back to 1.5 kite and we continued moving at pace until dawn when, tired and hot but happy, we slid into our bunks.

Now I’m sitting below in the sweltering heat, moving around at a slow pace to reduce water loss. Sleeping, we roll around, twisting, in sauna bunks. Our blankets are soaking, our pillows are like sponges and we wake up in a pool of sweat. Only the during the night watch is it really possible to sleep, though in conditions like these this is the nicest time on deck.’