The Artemis Transat fleet now faces a 1,000-mile slog to windward and the boatbreaking conditions of the Gulf Stream, says Golding

Mike Golding looks at what has happened to the IMOCA 60 fleet of the Artemis Transat during the 36-hour position blackout this weekend, and forecasts many more twists and turns ahead:

‘With the exception of the unfortunate retirement ofSeb Josse(BT), the outcome of the blackout period was, in fact, fairly tame amongst the leaders of the IMOCA 60s. Gains and losses in the lead pack seem directly linked to those who chose to move to a more lateral position whilst the published polling of positions was switched off.

‘Still, withMichel Desjoyeaux(Foncia) and Seb now out of the running, only two of my predicted first four boats are still racing:Vincent Riou’s PRB andLoick Peyron’s Gitana. From the tracks it looks as if the skippers who chose to tack later in the blackout period gained over those who went as soon as the blackout started.

‘Whilst Gitana is currently in second place, her distance to PRB is somewhat greater than it was before the blackout. Loick will definitely be wishing he had waited longer before switching to the south going on starboard tack.

‘Further back the fleet is much as it was on Friday. The biggest winner has beenMarc Guillemot(Safran) who, from looking at his track, has benefited from a far more rapid wind shift than the others. How he is coping on board with a broken rib is anyone’s guess. These boats are tough at the best of times.

‘Right now, the leaders are in stronger and more consistent breeze. Over the next 24 hours the whole fleet should see this same wind arrive. It’s horrible Atlantic slog to windward weather but these are the bread and butter conditions of the Transat race delivered to its competitors since 1960.

‘Don’t be fooled though, this race is far from over and it’s certainly not going to be “a drag race to the finish”. The truth is that the boats still have the 1,000-mile slog down the coast even after they are past the ice gate.

‘Apart from the weather, the Gulf Stream is going to be the next big thing for the fleet. If one of the boats spends just a few hours accidentally pushing current, the chasing boats will be past them in a flash. Satellite sea surface temperature charts will become as important as the weather data in plotting a winning track over the next four days or so. The current here can be as much as 4 knots and, if you get it wrong, it will be pushing you back towards Europe.

‘If you get it right and the current is pushing you along that’s great, but the current is then against the wind and the resulting sea state is something to behold – this could be a serious boat breaker! The satellite charts are not straightforward either, the current swirls and eddies around and no matter how good, or up to date the data is on the spot conditions can be very different.

‘It’s Snakes and Ladders with a 1,000 square mile board!’