As the Open 60s approach the straits of Dover and a new weather front, strategy at this point will prove to be the deciding factor

At the last report from the race office, just 20 miles separated leaders Kingfisher and SILL from the last yacht, La Rage de Vivre. However, that may not last for long. Three yachts have taken a radical turn to the northwest. Led by ECOVER, currently in fifth place, AlphaGraphics and LRV, sixth and seventh respectively, have apparently decided they have nothing to lose taking a flyer.

Exactly what strategy the three are following can only be guessed. If they tried to follow SILL and Kingfisher, now in first and second, they may feel that they have little chance of catching these two very fast yachts. So, in anticipation of heavy weather ahead they may be getting to the west in the hope of catching the first strong winds of that approaching system.

AlphaGraphics broke early from the westerly course and headed back east in a big way. LRV hedged its bet by bearing off only slightly. Golding stuck with his westerly strategy the longest only tacking southward at around 0100 hours GMT.

FILA, which had taken the most easterly course of the pack, tacked westward a few hours ago and is now in line with SILL and Kingfisher holding in fourth position.

The weather report indicates lighter conditions as the new weather system moves towards the fleet. Whether or not ECOVER and the two other westward boats get the first push from that system should be clear by tomorrow. But, the course is a gamble as it takes the three yachts miles away from the rhumline, increasing their distance to the finish.

Still, the strategy may have another benefit. Even if they gain little in the way of stronger winds to the west, they have positioned themselves well for a straight shot south to the Straits of Dover. On the other hand, the other four eastward yachts cannot stay that course much longer. Eventually they will have to tack west in order to round the top of France. Paying this price early in lighter winds may be at the core of Golding’s strategy. It may be at that the point when the other four yachts are forced to tack west that ECOVER hopes to speed past Kingfisher, SILL and Gartmore in the stronger winds that will prevail then.

Meanwhile, boat speeds have held in the 8 to 10 knot range most of the day, slow going for yachts that can hit 30 knots or more in a stiff breeze.

Weather analysis suggests gale force winds across the Straits of Dover at about the time the fleet reaches that point in the leg. With winds predicted as high as 45 knots, it will be the first physical test of both yachts and crews of the race. With a short stopover scheduled in Portsmouth before the start of the first transatlantic leg, any serious damage to a yacht in this leg could be fatal to a team’s hopes.