The Around Alone leaders are being hurled around in winds of more than 70 knots and wild seas, but all is OK on board

“It’s war here: 72 knots of wind on the nose and the sea is wild.” This was Bernard Stamm’s comment this morning at 1000 as he tasted the full fury of the storm off the coast of Portugal. Of the leaders of Around Alone, Stamm (pictured left) is the furthest west and in the worst conditions. “It’s exhausting. The manoeuvres are hard and the boat is underwater as often as she is above. I haven’t gone far enough yet for the best angle but the wind is coming from the rhumb line and I can’t make any better progress. I hope I haven’t done all this only for the others behind to catch me up.”

Stamm was expecting the wind to abate a little today before it increases again, and with monstrous, ‘boat-breaking’ seas he is continuing under three-reefed mainsail and storm jib.

Stamm says he has is tetchy after “two days of insane whistling in the ears, without a single minute’s rest. Bobst Group Armor Lux is reliable; I know her like the back of my hand. I don’t need to ask where different noises are coming from; I know them. The boat is not suffering too much in these conditions. I filled all the ballast tanks (5 tonnes of water) to prevent the boat flying off the tops of waves and falling down into the troughs. Instead I’ve made a submarine.

” Outside, it’s hell. The decks are permanently awash; you can’t even open your eyes.” In spite of that, Stamm keeps having to leave the sanctuary of his cabin to make checks. Sleeping and eating properly are out of the question. “I’ve given up having meals, even freeze-dried ones. Chocolate, Coke and peanuts are the only things on the menu for me.”

Conditions are still bad this evening – so much so that Stamm wryly described lulls of 50 knots as ‘holidays’, but he says he sees the end in sight. “I hope to leave the storm tonight. You’ll see what it’s like when it gets to you. When the barometer rises, it will be more peaceful.”

During the day, he cracked off and is making a course slightly east of south. Up until now he has been steadily accruing westing for the descent towards the Doldrums, and was 400 miles further west than Thierry Dubois on Solidaires. “On all the Vendée Globes, the west has always been favoured,” he commented.

Thierry Dubois has been holding on to 2nd place, but he too is being flailed by the tempestuous conditions. In a phone conversation he said simply that it was “difficult to pass on news in this storm. I will call again when it has passed.”

There was no e-mail today from Emma Richards, who is lying in 3rd position. In spite of the threat of this storm, Emma has kept a middle course between Bernard Stamm and Thierry Dubois and pulled back a lot of miles in the last few days. Now it’s a case of holding on. In a phone conversation today she said she had seen gusts of over 70 knots.

One has to remember that the conditions these sailors are currently experiencing are massively more severe than a full gale of 40 knots. This is violent storm category, borderline hurricane strength. Since wind force goes up by the square of wind speed, the gusts they have been getting are nearly four times more powerful than a 40-knot gale.

Late last night, Italian skipper Simone Bianchetti left Brest with new autopilots. He will be the next to feel the brunt of this depression with winds every bit as strong.

The last remaining Class 1 skipper, Bruce Schwab, is safely in port now, along with all the Class 2 yachts. For them, the big question is how soon to start racing again. The gales look as if they will continue battering Finisterre until at least Tuesday.