Charging problems force Derek Hatfield, the battler of Around Alone's Class 2, to turn back for New Zealand

Canadian skipper Derek Hatfield, the first to cross the line on Sunday’s restart of Around Alone Leg 4, has today informed the race office that he is experiencing from charging problems on board his Open 40 Spirit of Canada.

The latest positions at 14:00GMT (03:00hrs NZ time) show that Hatfield is heading back towards New Zealand shores just a day’s sailing away, and the skipper has confirmed that until the problem is localised and resolved, he has turned the boat around whilst still not too far from land. Given that this 7,880-mile leg will take the fleet furthest away from any landfall for the longest duration into the vast oceanic deserts around the bottom of the world, Hatfield’s decision is a cautionary measure.

With a lot of the Around Alone teams still based in New Zealand, his shore support is currently being aided by nearly every other team in the race in order to have ready on hand all the possible solutions to this electrical problem.

Meanwhile, the front-runners in Class 1 and 2 have crossed the International Date Line to have February 11th twice over, and the skippers have not had much more than an hour’s sleep since the start as they race towards colder climes grand prix style in 20 knot winds from the North West underneath the large high pressure system spread out above.

In the last 24 hours the current lead Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group-Armor Lux has only pushed out a handful of miles over Thierry Dubois on Solidaires who is “sticking like glue”. Bruce Schwab on Ocean Planet is pulling off a fine performance holding third, keeping the new modified bow of his narrow boat up with the beamy spaceship-style yachts skippered by the more experienced sailors. Also it is refreshing to have Italian Simone Bianchetti back in fighting form with the new rig on Tiscali – he has never been so determined to chase a podium finish in this leg.

Thanks to the lighter reaching conditions, the Class 2 fleet are maintaining high average boat speeds, and leader Brad Van Liew on Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America is holding his own with the back markers in Class 1 Hexagon and Pindar. “My strategy this leg is based on a priority of getting safely to Brazil,” Van Liew wrote in his log, ” so a bit of a push in the mild weather for the first couple days has made an early lead possible. This will allow me to take it easy in the deep Southern Ocean and hopefully stay north of any ice fields.”

Behind him, the podium spots have been rotating between every other boat in the fleet – including Alan Paris on Open 40 BTC Velocity whose average boat speed has been ticking over 8 knots in these optimum conditions. Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal has opened up a 15 mile lead over Japanese skipper Kojiro Shiraishi on Spirit of yukoh, and with main rival Derek Hatfield having peeled off to the West, Kent will be focused on keeping the best speeds up and the pressure on Van Liew ahead.

Kojiro has never had his boat in such a good state of repair and so his goal to reach the podium in Leg 4 is very much in sight. A high pressure lies ahead, which will stall the boats temporarily until they dive deeper below the 40th parallel and pick up the oncoming low pressure systems.