Fleet spread out as ridge of high pressure approaches, but in mid-Atlantic a tropical storm may be about to become a hurricane

The yachts in the BT Global Challenge, currently south-west of the Scilly Isles, are beginning to spread out. Conrad Humphreys and his crew on LG FLATRON are leading, having picked up better winds to the south of the main group. They are heading below the rhumb-line Great Circle Route in an early gamble for the advantage.

The remainder of the boats are also picking up better winds. During the first 24 hours at sea, average boatspeed was between 4 and 5 knots, but most crews are now making over 9 knots downwind.

Veritas and Save the Children gybed in the early hours to take a more northerly course, while Spirit of Hong Kong is leading from Compaq in the main group and in a strong position between the two flanks.

If present weather forecasts are correct, the fleet will have to cross a ridge of high pressure within the next 24-48 hours. With those light winds in the offing, the next few days should show whose is the smartest strategy.

Some deeper areas of low pressure lie on the western side of the Atlantic, however, and it is unlikely that the fleet will cross without encountering at least one gale. An area all skippers will be examining closely is the mid-Atlantic, where an active tropical storm with 70-80 mph winds is developing.

Although this is stationary at the moment, forecasters believe that the storm, named Florence, could develop into full hurricane in next 24 hours and move off to the north-west. If so, this could potentially produce more intense weather off the US eastern seaboard.