With only 400 miles left to the finish, frustration sets in for the Clipper fleet as the wind dies 20/7/06

Yesterday I wrote that the wind hole expected to slow down the Clipper fleet had not materialised – I spoke too soon. About 5pm the wind dropped to a couple of knots, and apart from a few short lifts has remained light to non-existent ever since, with what little there is constantly veering from north to south-east, and then backing again.

As I write this 18 hours later, starboard watch have just hoisted our lightest, 0.75oz spinnaker to make an excellent 6.5 knots on course for Jersey, but it’s still a game of wait-and-see. A similar lift during our watch last night died back down to nothing after barely an hour, simply the trailing edge of one of the many thunderstorms that lit the night sky all around us with a dazzling display of sheet and forked lightning.

Few clouds are without a silver lining however, and this one is no exception. The wind hole extends considerably to the north and has had a similar effect on our competitors, so that the lead three boats, headed byVictoria, are within six miles of one another. They now have only a 44 mile lead onLiverpool, compared with 78 miles at the same time yesterday. This ‘car park’ effect has altered the outcome of many of the Clipper legs so far, and we are still very much in with a chance. IfLiverpool, to the south of the fleet, gets the wind first we could easily close the gap.

The latest wind predictions suggest that a light north-westerly breeze will fill in towards evening. If the wind we are seeing now is the beginnings of this, Tim reckons we may be in for a few hours’ good sailing. It is then forecast to back round to the south as we enter the Celtic Sea. The angles are good, but unfortunately the wind is set to become very light by midday tomorrow right across the western part of the Channel, dying away to virtually nothing by the early hours of Friday.

Making progress in such conditions is going to be slow and frustrating work. We’re trying our best though, changing sails when necessary to make the best of the wind as soon as it seems to settle for a time.

So far a sense of humour has persisted on board, and land is definitely starting to feel close – today everyone’s interest was roused when a hoverfly and a large moth appeared on board, although at one point the moth overtook us which damaged its popularity. Graham started to swab the decks this morning in a fit of energy tempered by disgust at the scattered chocolate and cookie crumbs generated by the night’s boredom eating, and yesterday afternoon Tomo was brave (or foolish) enough to let Dave Keene loose on his hair with the boat’s clippers. To be fair, it’s not a bad job, if a little rough around the edges. The rest of us have contented ourselves with gazing over the side at an endless procession of curious jellyfish and floating polyps that seem to have gathered in the area.

Ocean racing is supposed to be character building, and most people assume that it’s through teamwork on the foredeck in flying spray and driving rain. In part that’s true, but there are other aspects as Tomo observed earlier. “Sailing teaches you all kinds of skills – especially patience,” he said.