Light winds and fog frustrate BT fleet

Quadstone and Compaq lead the BT Challenge fleet as they head for La Rochelle, but it’s a frustrating game played in light winds and fog. To make matters worse the corner of the African coast is a busy shipping route, and overnight yachts had frequent radio contact with ships spotted on radar.

Manley Hopkinson, skipper of Olympic Group, says the watchkeeping and light winds sailing is keeping their nerves stretched: ‘The potential for collision in these conditions is enormous. All those on deck wore lifejackets and a listening watch was posted in front of the mast.

‘We had to work hard at keeping the 0.75 oz spinnaker flying with the helm, sheet and guy constantly working together as the wind shifted dramatically. Eventually it was to no avail so we dropped our limp wrapping kite and hoisted the fore and aft sails, the No 1 yankee and staysail. The wind was light enough for the genoa but we have found that if there is any swell it loses its drive quicker than the two smaller sails. At sea the genoa rarely gets an airing.

‘This morning has seen the same wind pattern but with a subtle shift to the north with a bit of westerly creeping in. There are some complex weather patterns causing this unseasonable wind shift with big highs combining over the Atlantic, Africa and the southern Indian Ocean, with a couple of monster lows below threatening to disrupt the pattern further. The equatorial region looks to be totally devoid of any wind whatsoever, but the northern Atlantic at least looks to be fairly “normal”, with its succession of lows traversing from west to east. It is going to be a fascinating leg, and possibly a very, very long one!

‘Quadstone, well to the west, seems to be doing better than the eastern boats. We are roughly mid-fleet on the east west split but making a good course of 290-300°, giving us a good westerly shove but maintaining our northerly also. If Quadstone pushes too far west she is in danger of hitting the high when it does come north, but we shall have to wait and see as the plot unfolds.’