All eyes on board Doha 2006, currently leading the Oryx Quest, are fixed firmly on a serious weather situation to their north

All eyes on board Doha 2006, currently leading the Oryx Quest, are fixed firmly on a serious weather situation to their north. Tropical storm Hennie has been upgraded to Cyclone Hennie and the storm is on a collision course with the boat. At present the eye of the storm is located 330 miles north north-east of the island of Mauritius which also happens to be a required turning mark of the course.

The system is tracking in a south-westerly direction at 9 knots. At present there is no immediate danger. The storm is more than a 1,000 miles due north, but it’s track is likely to intersect with that of the Qatari cat and with both entities moving at a good clip towards each other, they could close the distance in a couple of days.

At present Brian Thompson and his navigator Will Oxley are weighing their options. It’s a very tricky scenario as it’s hard to know precisely where the storm will track. At present the local conditions for Doha 2006 are somewhat unstable making it difficult for the routing software to estimate the boat’s position 24 hours down the road. Will Oxley explained their dilemma in a satellite phone call:

“We have two options for dealing with this storm,” he said. “We can continue to head east to give it a wide berth. The best estimates are for the storm to track in a south-westerly direction, then southerly, and then turn to the south-east and intensify. That’s the part that has us concerned. If we try and go outside the storm and don’t make it because the wind dies we will be in a very dangerous place. Right in the path of a strong cyclone.

Twenty four hours of good sailing and we will be fine, but there are no guarantees. The other option is to head north-west and try and get around to the west of the center of the storm. If we manage that we will get slung shot north in strong winds, but at least they will be favorable winds that could push us all the way to the equator. But again it’s tricky because if the cyclone does not turn to the south-east like they think it will, we will run smack into the middle of it. We may in fact have to do what Tony (Daedalus) did and that is turn and retrace our track by sailing south for a couple of days.”

There is another consideration to take into account should Thompson and his crew try for the westerly option. One small jog in the wrong direction by the storm may force the crew to head too far west and in fact miss the turning mark of Mauritius which they are required to leave to port. At present Doha 2006 is continuing on the easterly course, perhaps confident that they have enough wind to scribe a big arc around the danger zone.

Will Oxley discusses the tactic in his log. “We now need to make another 600 nautical miles to the north-east before easing sheets and racing north in strong east-south-east winds,” he wrote. “Right now it looks very tight, but we should be able to stay clear to the east. This is certainly a storm not to be taken lightly with 70 knots winds and stronger gusts forecast. We knew the passage up the Indian Ocean was likely to be the most difficult of the race, but we hoped it would not be quite so hard. Things are developing quickly so plans can change, especially if it looks as if we won’t make it around well to the east of the system.”

The high pressure systems in the South Atlantic and the southern part of the Indian Ocean has forced Doha 2006 to sail an extra 2,000 miles. Playing dodgems with the cyclone is likely to add additional distance to their race and it’s very likely that once the storm has moved off that they will face some very calm conditions. “My experience is that these storms literally suck the air out of the atmosphere leaving behind extensive calms,” Oxley said. “We could be facing days of drifting conditions and so we have started to ration our food. Our ETA for 2-3 April is no longer valid. It may be closer to 10 April and we only packed enough food until the 6th!”

While Doha 2006 weighs their options and sails 80 degrees off course, Tony Bullimore and his team on Daedalus are gulping big chunks off their lead. At the 07:00 GMT poll this morning Daedalus was sailing at 19 knots and is currently halfway across the South Atlantic. In a brief satellite phone call Tony discussed the sailing: “We have had good conditions for the last two days and the boat is sailing perfectly” he said. “We can really tell the difference with the weight out of the boat. I think this is the best Daedalus has ever sailed.”

In the last week Daedalus has narrowed the gap between themselves and Doha 2006 by 500 miles, but Thompson and his crew are not concerned. They know that Daedalus will also encounter difficult sailing conditions once they enter the Indian Ocean by which time Doha 2006 should be north of the equator and smelling home.