The Class I leaders return to the Roaring Forties, heading south for forecast westerlies

Having pounded into headwinds and head seas for the better part of two days to safely clear East Cape on New Zealand’s North Island, the four Class I skippers at the front of the Around Alone pack were bearing off to the south today after crossing the fortieth parallel, which marked their collective return to the Southern Ocean’s notorious Roaring Forties. At 0940 GMT this morning, Marc Thiercelin had reclaimed the top spot and was 5,613 miles from Punta del Este, Uruguay. Just two miles back, Isabelle Autissier was in second, followed by Josh Hall (5,623 miles DTF) and Giovanni Soldini (5,635 miles DTF). Averaging speeds better than 11 knots, both Thiercelin and Autissier were a knot quicker than their rivals at the early report.

All four competitors were on a direct free-fall south today, holding course headings a shade to this side or that of 180 degrees. A glance at the weather map clearly outlines their southern obsession. The trip’s first significant cold front is steaming in from the west, and it’s imperative at this early stage to be well positioned on the front’s leading edge when it arrives. The highlights of the weather forecast relayed to the fleet from Commanders’ Weather contains this teaser: “Lots and lots of wind and sea by mid-week south of 48-50 [degrees] S, but you have to get there!” The extended outlook for Wednesday reads, “Winds will be S-SW 15-30 knots from 45-50S/160W to 178E with seas of 10-14 feet.” Like surfers lining up for an approaching wave, the skippers are obviously eager to hitch up with the front and ride, brother, ride.

For Josh Hall, however, the early ride has hit a pothole or two. In a COMSAT email to race headquarters today, he elaborated on a scary bump in the night. “All well here other than fighting a bad cold – must stop kissing the wife,” he said. “Had a big fright last night – was having a doze when there was a loud bang and I was dumped on the floor. Thought the keel or mast had failed but it was just the bunk brackets breaking off the bulkhead. Sure got my attention! Trust all is well in Charleston. Feels like we are heading back now.”

Though slightly behind the Class I leaders, the top boats in Class II this morning were also adopting the “Go south, young men,” strategy. At the front of the pack, with 5,664 miles to go, Brad Van Liew continued to hold a 17-mile gap over J.P. Mouligne. Mike Garside, just two miles behind Mouligne, was third. Van Liew also filed a report to race ops this morning: “My update as you can imagine begins with the somber mood the airplane crash [that killed Italian journalist Luciano Nustrini, and his wife, Giuliana] put me into… I am having a hard time adjusting to life on board and think that incident is part of the reason. I have also had some disappointing gear failure which includes the radar, wind instruments, and the sat phone. For all of this to happen on day one makes me wonder what’s next. The good news is that we have had upwind conditions and I have been able to stay in the lead while we negotiate the tricky New Zealand coast…”

Another Around Alone skipper was safely in Auckland today after having negotiated the tricky northern coastline from North Cape to the finish line. Robin Davie – having split his mainsail within 100 miles of Auckland – crossed the line at 0455 GMT this morning after a difficult voyage of 64d, 18h, 55m, 00s. For Davie, the sight of the green hills of New Zealand had to be especially sweet.

LATE NOTE: In his comments to the press, Davie referred to desiring to continue in the race if he could get things fixed and depart quickly, otherwise he would still continue on, perhaps stop in the Falklands, and then return to Charleston. Davie has not yet spoken with race officials about his plans.