Mouligne continues to charge, slashing Garside's lead to 66 miles; Soldini flies north

Playing the fluky, frustrating conditions of the doldrums for all they’re worth, J.P. Mouligne continued to gobble up huge chunks of mileage today as the battle for Leg 4 line honors in Class II of Around Alone continued just south of the equator. A mere 48-hours ago, Mouligne trailed division leader Mike Garside by just over 200 miles. At 0944 GMT today, Garside’s lead had evaporated to a short 66 miles. But neither sailor is out of the figurative woods just yet. The forecasters at Commanders’ Weather believe that the miserable doldrums may be oozing and expanding outward. Today’s report reads, “Doldrums may be pretty wide, from 6S to 4N and all the way from 30-50W…” That’s bad news not only for Mouligne and Garside, but for the entire back half of the fleet, who have yet to reach their southern border.

The doldrums, however, are no longer a problem for overall and Class I leader Giovanni Soldini. The feisty Italian today had increased his ever-widening gap over Marc Thiercelin to a whopping 319 miles. Moreover, at 0940 GMT Soldini was firmly latched on to the Northeast Tradewinds and zinging along a fleet-best average speed of 11.5 knots. Though the doldrums are reportedly particularly wide this season, they barely slowed Soldini on his voyage to Charleston. At the early report he was 2,653 miles from the finish line and going strong.

The same could not be said of the remaining Class I competitor, Marc Thiercelin. At the early report Thiercelin was making just seven knots and appeared unable to do anything about Soldini’s northward march. Yesterday, in a rare COMSAT email to race headquarters, he filed this message: “Situation is normal. [Been in] doldrums [for] 48 hours. Rain, rain, rain and no wind. I see Leg 4 go on and me staying. Is a bad, bad time. For me [the] race is finished. No wind. No wind. Have a good night. See you…”

Looking down the fleet roster, the competitors are now made up of four factions. Soldini, a force (and “faction”) unto himself, is the only skipper thus far to have reached the trades north of the equator. Theircelin, Garside and Mouligne – the second grouping – are firmly entrenched in the doldrums. Then comes the third pack led by Viktor Yazykov, who early today was 245 miles behind Mouligne and holding third place in Class II. Yazykov is followed, in turn, by Neal Petersen, Minoru Saito, Neil Hunter, and Brad Van Liew. (Petersen has reported that he is “not feeling well. Have an upset stomach, feel dizzy and generally unwell. I think it is a reaction to the drugs Dr. Carlin has me on for [a] sore throat and ear infection.” Neil Hunter sent a note saying “all well,” but adding, “Where oh where have the tradewinds gone?”)

The fourth group consists of retired skippers Fedor Konioukhov and Robin Davie, who are sailing Leg 4 in an unofficial capacity. At 0940 today Konioukhov was 4,100 miles from Charleston and just three miles ahead of Hunter. Davie, bringing up the rear, was 4,849 miles out and 46 miles behind Van Liew. Davie, who started some 30 hours behind Van Liew after the young American set out a second time following his dismasting, closed the gap between the two significantly in the last two days. “The last 24 hours have been a pleasant surprise with the winds holding and a good 200 miles under the keel,” Davie reported. “They’ve allowed me to pull back some of the miles [Brad] had over me; [he had] around a 300 mile lead when I left Punta… I just got plain lucky in staying south…”