The wind fills in and miles begin to roll beneath Liverpool's keel again and the end is in sight 20/7/06

“Steering this boat is like driving a car with dirty fuel and a slipping clutch,” said Andy Perry this morning as Liverpool corkscrewed uncomfortably over a light cross swell with her lightest spinnaker sagging and filling alternately to the nine knot breeze.

Throughout the whole of yesterday the wind remained light, with occasional lifts to get the boat moving before returning to sullen rolling and speeds of less than a knot. At one point we were even overtaken by a swimming seagull. The current breeze filled in at around 5am and has remained relatively consistently just north of west for the past seven hours, and the forecast and observed cloud patterns suggest a veer to the south later which will hopefully give us a faster angle. However, for the time being we are making seven to eight knots towards the finish line with occasional gybes to keep our average course on track.

Owing to the light winds the Clipper race organisers have chosen to finish the race early, and set a gate between the Ushant and the Lizard, after which the yachts will make best speed under engine for the final 120 miles to St Helier. That leavesLiverpoolwith around 180 miles left to the line, which if we can maintain seven knots should see us finish at around midday on Friday and entering harbour in the early hours of Saturday morning. The shipping forecast for the next 24 hours is positive – westerly breezes at first in western Sole, veering to become southerly ¾ as we progress further east into the area and building to force 5/7 later. As our day-old Grib file suggests the opposite, with the wind dying to virtually nothing, we’re all professing faith in the shipping forecast.

Liverpoolhas been nothing if not unlucky recently. A combination of light airs and deep downwind angles have caused us to drop, on average, a place a day for the last week. We’re now equal seventh with Jersey, and have consistently returned poor daily distances – our last was just 47 miles over the 12 hours from 1600UTC yesterday to 0400UTC this morning, giving a velocity made good of 3.9 knots – not much for a boat which can easily maintain 12 knots under the right conditions. Our competitors’ tactics have taken them to positions further to the north or south, resulting in better wind angles and speeds at this late stage.

Crew morale is still fairly good given the circumstances, although inevitably there is an obsession with the figures recorded by ourselves and the rest of the fleet, and those same figures seem to have caused the skipper to become despondent and much less proactive and involved with the crew than I observed earlier in the race. According to several of the round-the-world participants, this is the longest spell of really light weather they have experienced so far, and it’s certainly depressing to see the evidence of the other yachts passing us on better routes. However, some decent sailing to the finish would do wonders to lift spirits, and it’s hard to dent the excitement and anticipation of people who will be reunited with friends and family on their arrival in Jersey who they may not have seen for several months.

Disasters aside, a podium position is probably out of reach ofLiverpoolfrom our position 137 miles behind the leader,New York. However, gaining just three miles would put us back into fifth place – both fifth and seventh places are held jointly at present, so our battle over the next 24 hours is likely to be waged betweenLiverpool,Glasgow,SingaporeandJersey. One of these is already in sight about five miles to the south ofLiverpool- it’s amazing how the sight of another yacht after days of blank horizons instantly reawakens the pressure of match racing.