Doha 2006 has a 1,298-mile lead over Cheyenne but fleet but prepares for tricky time ahead on approach to the Horn

The tedium of racing around the world seems to be settling over the Oryx Quest crew as they race the southern seas heading for the tip of South America, the mighty Cape Horn.

On board the leading three boats the rhythm and routine are causing minds to wander, and when they do they invariably lead to thoughts of home and family. Paul Larsen on board Doha 2006 summed things up perfectly in his daily log: “The rush of water out the back doesn’t stop,” he wrote. “The noise below decks is relentless and doesn’t stop. The motion of the boat varies very little. Basically it feels like we are on a ferry bound for the horn. 25 knots has become such a common number that it is… I hate to say it, boring.

“Yesterday we ticked of 603 miles without trying very hard. Sailing this way does become boring and boredom is something that has to be dealt with like all the other emotions and conditions of long haul sailing. To pretend it doesn’t exist is like pretending you don’t get cold or wet. It comes with the territory I’m afraid.

“Not every day is flat out, pedal to the metal with glorious sunrises/sets abounding in nature. There are times where it can be as exciting as sitting out the front of your house on a bench in the middle of a rainy, windy winter four hours on, four hours off for days on end. You pace around the boat like a caged animal. Galley, Nav station, cockpit, leeward hull, galley, nav station etc. Anything to keep your mind stimulated.”

It’s always easier to deal with anything life throws your way, boredom included, if you are the leading the fleet and at the most recent poll Doha 2006 has a 1,298-mile lead over Cheyenne. The daily routine on board Cheyenne is less settled. They have not been handed their fair share of good luck cards and constantly seem to be checkmated by the wind gods.

For the last three days they have been struggling to overtake a cold front that has been feeding them miserable conditions. Light winds, big seas and an unfavorable wind direction has been making their lives miserable. Unfortunately the front was moving east at the same speed as the big catamaran and the conditions did not improve until late Tuesday when they the front finally stalled and they were able to break through to the fair winds. Claire Bailey, boat doctor on Cheyenne, vented a little frustration in her daily log. “We are struggling through the Southern Ocean still,” she wrote. “We must be the most unlucky boat when it comes to weather. We have spent days trying to catch a front to send us downwind with no luck. Consequently we have pounded up wind with the crew getting tired and worried that the food will run out! It’s very frustrating as Doha 2006 has good conditions and has extending her lead while we sit and wait for a ride.” They have also been beset with a recurring batten problem and had to lower the mainsail twice to effect repairs.

Now that Cheyenne has broken through ‘The Wall’, as the obstinate front became known, the sailing for the next few days looks good. “Looking ahead, the next two days shows us sailing fast east south-east in northerly winds,” wrote Cheyenne’s navigator, Wouter Verbraak, in his daily log. “The goals is to catch a low pressure system to the south-east of us. The weather still looks complex with two small lows to our north which could interfere with this plan. It’s the nature of these lows to have their own will and not follow much of what we try to predict with our super computers. If there is one thing I have learned in my study of meteorology is the unpredictability of the weather. It makes for interesting studies, but frustrating sailing!”

With less than 1,800 miles to go until Cape Horn, Brian Thompson and Will Oxley on Doha 2006 are working hard, downloading weather and crunching numbers to plan the best route that will take them safely around the infamous cape. They are also finding that forecasts, even the best ones, are often just best estimates of what might happen and they are working hard to plan a route that will take them through a potential minefield of bad weather.

“All the weather models want to take us south at the moment,” Oxley said in a satellite phone call. “As far south as 57 degrees where we will run along in front of a new low pressure system that would take us most of the way to the Horn. There is, however, a potential low developing to the west of Cape Horn and that could give us a little bit of grief by giving us some north-east winds, so we are currently not doing what the models want. We are trying to stay a little further north along a line of pressure that will keep us in slightly better conditions, and also allow us more flexibility to handle the low once we get closer to the cape.

Equally disturbing is the potential of another low developing east of Cape Horn on around 5 March, and that would give us north-east winds in the vicinity of Cape Horn, so that’s not good news.” To add to the complicated weather system a fairly intense low is looming astern and could catch the Qatari catamaran right at the corner, turning the forecast into a quagmire of competing weather systems. No one ever said it was simple sailing in the deep south, but it is fun as the big cats piggy back from one low pressure system to the next all in an attempt to be first around the corner.