Variable winds afflict leaders of Around Alone, and Graham Dalton has been coping with breakages

For the skippers in Around Alone, the misery of bashing upwind in fog, rain and rough seas has been replaced by the equal or greater agony of floundering in light winds. The fleet is spread out over more than 300 miles and have been at the mercy of high pressure, until winds began filling in again yesterday.

Their exact location is troublesome to calculate as the race organisers’s woes seem to have worsened, too. The fleet location map so crucial to following the event is showing the whole of the North Atlantic and the ghostly legend ‘General Location of Fleet’ covers a good portion of the western part. Yachts’ individual positions show that as well as a spread from front to back, there are 300 miles from north to south, but working out who is where in relation to the area of high pressure would be an exercise with chart and dividers.

Clearly, however, Bernard Stamm is leading the fleet, with fellow French sailor Thierry Dubois some 65 miles behind. Last night he reported that the wind had settled after a period of variable winds and flat calms. “It’s more peaceful and I have been able to sleep and recover,” Stamm said, adding that he hoped to be able to keep in these conditions for the following 48 hours. The centre of a small depression is not far off, he said and he is studying the weather again.

The remainder of the Class 1 boats trail Stamm, with Emma Richards at the back, over 200 miles behind. Richards is, however, the most southerly of the boats.

Having slipped back after his mainsail fell down, Graham Dalton is up and running again. He sent this report yesterday: ‘ I have managed to hoist the mainsail again. Without it, the boat was only really averaging between six and seven knots, whereas now she is virtually back up to full speed, making between 14 and 15 knots.

‘I really struggled to rig the new halyard and battled for about four hours in biting winds, which were gusting at times up to 50 knots. Still, I didn’t have to climb the mast for this repair, which was a bonus. However, just to add insult to injury, at the height of last night’s storm a lead block for one of the jib sheets broke, wrenching away the lifelines and breaking the pushpit aft. Consequently, the lack of tension in the guard-wires over the whole length of the boat will mean that I will have to watch my step on deck until I can deal with the repairs.

‘It is an extremely satisfying feeling to know we have been put to the test and come out the other side; the race is far from over and Hexagon is performing well.

‘The strong north-easterly winds that we are experiencing at the moment present a tactical dilemma for me. With a high pressure system building in the mid Atlantic, one option is to go north, hopefully to skirt around the worst of the light winds that await anyone straying too far south. But sailing north, once clear of the Newfoundland coast, adds distance. “Which way to go?” is the question I am asking myself.

‘The next test for me is to try to cook a proper meal while the boat is being tossed around. It is vital that I keep my energy levels up so that I can carry out all the repairs in these changeable conditions.”