With gale force headwinds lashing the fleet as they dodge the shipping in the Dover Strait, the second leg of the EDS Atlantic Challenge has become a battle to keep as much of the fleet as possible in one piece

Since this morning’s report, the wind has picked up to 45 knots steady and waves of 20ft are now bucking the fleet as they dodge the shipping lanes. The leaders, currently five miles south of Dungeness, should be clear of the Strait by nightfall but La Rage de Vivre and AlphaGraphics, yet to enter the Strait, are in for a grim night.

Once through the Strait, it looks like more headwinds as the wind veers into the west before a new low spins down from Iceland and whips the wind back into the south. According to the forecast, winds in advance of the warm front could reach even higher speeds than those seen today – not such a problem because they would be on the beam but still cause for concern where these delicate thoroughbreds are concerned.

Roland Jourdain’s Sill is still opting for the long, considered, tacks that served her so well in the first leg while Ellen MacArthur’s track onboard Kingfisher suggests her main priority is using the lee of any available land and keeping out of the shipping lanes. Despite the apocalyptic weather, the gap between Sill and Kingfisher is still two miles.

Gartmore, third, is following Sill’s track, aiming to tack back towards the UK after passing close to Cap Gris Nez, near Calais, whereas Fila, fourth, seems to be following Kingfisher into the safety afforded by the Kent coastline. At 1348 today, both were 27 miles behind Sill. Mike Golding’s Ecover, fifth, is following Gartmore to the French coast and hoping to eat some of the 35 miles that separate him from the lead.

The leading boats are expected to arrive in Portsmouth very early on Thursday morning but looking ahead, the weather routers expect a lively opening to the third leg, from Portsmouth to Baltimore. “The long-range forecast for the weekend shows another strong system heading for the British Isles,” said Ken Campbell. “This one is coming out of the Bay of Biscay and it looks pretty potent. It has been very active across the North Atlantic this year a very active storm track coming out of Newfoundland and heading straight for the British Isles.”

The fleet will leave Portsmouth on Saturday 14 July.