Fog off Grand Banks and Flemish Cap leave Liverpool ghosting through a grey bubble 13/7/06

What do you get if you mix cold ocean currents with warm ones? Fog. In the early afternoon watch yesterday, we spotted a black band low in the sky to leeward. Over the next few minutes, the wind dropped, veered through more than 90 degrees and continued to box the compass for the next hour, causing us to gybe the spinnaker five times before it finally returned to its original south-westerly direction.

Since then, Liverpool has been gliding through a moist, grey shroud with rarely more than half a mile’s visibility. As watch leader David Ralphs, known on board as ‘Smurf’, put it: “It’s like sailing inside a bubble of frosted glass.”

On board everything is feels damp, damper than usual, and anyone who has been on deck returns below with a halo of water droplets glistening on their hair. But there are compensations. Just in case there are any obstacles missed by the radar, Tim has set a watch on the bow, changed every 15 minutes to maintain concentration. Peering into the fog brings the usual host of ghostly images that prove to be nothing but the product of an anxious imagination, but there is an amazing tranquility to sitting alone on the pulpit, surrounded by nothing but the rise and fall of the seas, the bubbling of the water under Liverpool‘s forefoot and the shifting mists.

The sun is now approaching its zenith and although the visibility has improved by the extra light, there seems little chance of an immediate clearance. However, we’re around 35 miles south of the Flemish Cap and headed just north of east at around nine knots on a fairly direct route out of this confluence of ocean currents, so hopefully we’ll be back in clear sunshine by tomorrow.

At the last reckoning, Liverpool had maintained her position at the head of the fleet, albeit by a scant three miles on Victoria. Tim’s routing will take us on a more southerly course than Victoria and the third and fourth place boats, New York and Western Australia, and will probably lose us our lead position within a few hours due to lighter winds, but it’s a calculated risk. Analysis of the Grib files for the next few days, which have been fairly accurate so far, show high pressure to the north and south and a developing low along our track. The result, it is hoped, will be a wind hole extending northwards which will adversely affect the three northerly yachts, while on board Liverpool we’re aiming to be clear or at the south-eastern edge of the hole by the time it develops and able to run out into a clear south-westerly airstream. Timing is tight, and the gamble made possible only by our lead, southerly position, but if it works may extend our lead considerably. The next two days will be crucial.

Now that our course is becoming more easterly the time zones are falling fast, and this afternoon marks another 15 degrees of longitude and will put us three hours behind the UK. It’s quite refreshing to cross the Atlantic this way rather than struggle with catching up after seven hours in an airliner. One of the crew mentioned today that a friend had just crossed in QE2 – Champagne and the pillows plumped each morning, but I wouldn’t swap.