Light and variable winds frustrate BT Challenge fleet, but the usual suspects are back at the front. And why the heat's on for all

Progress has slowed for the BT Global Challenge fleet as they experience light winds and squalls. The boats are still spread widely: presently 450 miles separate Norwich Union, the most westerly yacht, from Veritas, the most easterly. Although the same general weather system encompasses the fleet, winds are proving very variable and localised, and places are consequently swapping frequently throughout the fleet.

This morning, Norwich Union’s skipper, Neil Murray, reported squally conditions. “There are dramatic grey, towering clouds and very variable wind direction,” he said. “The sails have been up and down. We’ve had every headsail including a poled out No 2 and a spinnaker up last night, all in four hours.”

At the other side of the fleet, Mark Denton, skipper of BP Explorer is one of those trying to coax his boat to windward, but also in exasperating conditions. “It has been frustrating sailing:” he told us today, “very light and variable. There’s been a lot of tacking and no particular one seems to be good.”

But if it is difficult to make consistent progress, LG FLATRON and Quadstone, currently in 1st and 2nd place, are still managing. Along with 3rd placed Compaq, these crews are again demonstrating their ability to find the best course and make the most of every condition.

Meanwhile, Team SpirIT has moved up to 4th place, which should please both new skipper John Read and his crew. His track so far has mirrored LG FLATRON’s, but their courses parted earlier today and his nearest rival is now Compaq. Sticking to the centre of the fleet and lending weight to where the race favourites are going is simple brain work and, in Team SpirIT’s case, appears to be paying off.

Conditions on board the boats are becoming increasingly uncomfortable. With water temperature at 26°C and over, and hot, humid air accompanying the recent tropical storms, crews report that they are sweltering below decks.

Some skippers say they are running their generators ten or more hours a day and when added to the heat generated by electronics and battery chargers, it becomes stiflingly hot down below. Hatches can be opened off the wind, but when on the wind or during squalls, these have to be shut and it becomes difficult to sleep in the coffin-like bunks.