Neil Murray, skipper of Norwich Union reviews leg two so far and reflects on the decisions he had to make in weighing up racing and seamanship:
‘Day ten of the second leg of the BT Global Challenge and we still have 4,500 miles to go! The restart from Boston was held in almost identical conditions to the race start in the Solent in September. The weather conditions provided for a downwind spinnaker start, perfect for spectators and crew alike.
‘On Norwich Union we were again pleased with our performance, all our pre-race training paying dividends as we gybed the angles to the front of the fleet in the tricky light airs. We led the fleet as we passed the sand dunes of Cape Cod looming in the darkness.
‘Our strategy has been to be the westernmost boat as far as Bermuda, taking advantage of a couple of favourable eddies spinning off the Gulf Stream and giving us an extra knot or so. As we headed south the water temperature changed within the space of a couple of hours from a cool 11° to 26° C. We found our course diverging from the rest of the fleet as all the other yachts opted to sail the rhumb line to the bulge of Brazil.
‘Prior to the restart I had analysed the weather with the help of our weather router, Chris Tibbs (skipper of Concert in the last race). Chris had warned that an embryonic depression north of the eastern Caribbean could develop into a hurricane. Watching this like a hawk, we opted to continue our southerly course.
‘During the early part of the night on the second day out, the depression had been showing no sign of moving, so I judged it best to alter course to port and sail the rhumb line – having established ourselves as the westernmost boat. Only 24 hours later the depression was suddenly forecast to move and develop into a hurricane – and we were directly in it’s path.
‘Hurricane avoidance is clear cut if you find yourself in the path, as any Yachtmaster Ocean will know. You get onto a beam reach on starboard tack (northern hemisphere) and make best speed, getting in to the ‘navigable semicircle’. The whole fleet was spread out roughly in the path and towards the east, or ‘dangerous quadrant’. I guessed that in racing terms some of the fleet would make a run for it.
For me the decision was easy. We were in the path and had little to lose by going back to our southerly course. In fact it was likely that with a fully fledged hurricane sweeping through the fleet with forecast winds of 80 knots we would slingshot round the back and come out in front!
‘Also there was the question of seamanship and safety. Although this is a race, I have 17 paying customers as crew. We set course to miss the eye by 80-100 miles, which would call for nerves of steel and careful plotting of the track and speed of the centre.
‘So there were a few raised eyebrows when I called for the 1.5oz kite. We were flying along at a steady 12kts. The rising wind soon necessitated peeling to the 2.2oz flanker and as the pressure dropped that in turn was replaced by a poled out No 1 Yankee with one reef in the main.
‘The sheer size of weather systems is often awe-inspiring; their influence covers thousands of miles. A hurricane, though, is a very small, concentrated system in meteorological terms, though still has immense power. A fully fledged hurricane controls in excess of a million cubic miles of air and if its power could be harnessed would provide enough electricity to supply the entire United States for six months.
‘The atmosphere was literally electric as we tore south with Michael 100 miles off our port bow. Thick, dark purple cloud to port with spectacular, vivid rainbows and lightning. Clearer skies and a blood red sunset to starboard. We had everything battened down in an atmosphere of trepidation and excitement.
‘That night, to my surprise, the highest wind speed was a mere 40 knots. In contrast, we had experienced 63 knots in tropical storm Helene on leg one from Southampton to Bo