Brian Thompson and team aboard Doha 2006 are rocketing across the South Atlantic leading the two-strong Oryx Quest fleet

Since rounding Los Lobos Island two days ago to drop off on-board videos, Oryx Quest leader, Doha 2006, has been rocketing across the South Atlantic. At the 07:00 poll this morning the boat was sailing at 26.2 knots on a direct course for Cape Town.

Skipper Brian Thompson was concerned that they would slow down as they headed toward the Los Lobos turn because the Rio del la Plata is notoriously bad for calms, however the boat speed barely dropped a knot as they sailed up the coast toward Uruguay. Now, once around the island, they could have found their way blocked by high pressure, but again the gods have smiled and Doha 2006 is riding a fair trade wind eating up the miles. Brian’s log sums it up nicely. “For the next few days we are looking at good downwind conditions towards the bottom of Africa,” he wrote. “Right now we have 30 knots of breeze from astern and a beautiful trade wind sky as we charge eastwards.”

The weather in the South Atlantic is dominated by the South Atlantic high. Like the southern part of Indian Ocean, the winds circulate anti-clockwise around the region of high pressure bringing clear skies and steady breeze. It’s tricky sailing, however, as the high pressure can become unstable and make some unpredicted moves. The most important piece of equipment on board is the barometer as it’s the first indicator that the high is moving. If the barometer starts to rise, it’s time to sail away from the centre of the high, in the case of Doha 2006, to head south. For now though they are riding the edge of the region enjoying the kind of winds that have propelled sailors and their ships around the world for the last three centuries.

For the crew on Doha 2006 they have everything to lose at this stage of the race. They have led since the start gun fired almost five weeks ago and have sailed a tactically superb race. Brian Thompson has guided his team with steadfast resolve, urging them to push the boat hard when the conditions merited it, and to tap back on the gas when the seas were rough and the boat could potentially be damaged. Despite undergoing a refit before the race, Doha 2006 is an ‘older’ catamaran and like all boats that have been raced hard, there are weaknesses in the structure. The wind and weather will try their best to probe and find these weaknesses. It’s up to Brian and his team to sail smart and minimise any damage between now and the finish. There are two stark reminders of what might happen if the gods stop smiling; Geronimo tied to the dock in Sydney and Cheyenne under tow 50 miles from land in Argentina. Brian Thompson knows the dangers and discusses them in his log.

“I made a calculation of all the round-the-world trips on maxi-multihulls and there has only been a 50 per cent success ratio of getting to the finish without stopping or having a major problem,” he wrote. “I guess this race is no different. We all have our fingers crossed that statistics can’t lie, and that Daedalus and Doha 2006 make it back to Qatar. For us that’s over 8,500 miles away and that’s a lot of ocean to cross, and a lot more fatigue on the boat. We are still sailing as smartly and alertly as possible, but there is also now that extra element of caution, both in our choice of routing, and in how hard we push the boat. It’s a marathon and we have to get to the finish line. That old adage, ‘to finish first, first you have to finish’, is never truer than for us right now.

While Doha 2006 enjoys fine sailing, Tony Bullimore and his crew on Daedalus are in the deep south finding the going tough and very cold. The crew are wearing all their thermals and foul weather gear as the boat approaches 60 degrees south. The Screaming Sixties are known not only for the howling wind, but for the ice that builds up on the sails and rigging as the spray instantly freezes. At the 07:00 poll yesterday morning Daedalus was 1,350 miles from the Horn sailing at 12 knots. If all goes well they should round the cape sometime on Sunday.