With the leaders now south of St Johns, about to leave Grand Banks, the long oceanic swells have been replaced by a short, steep chop, making progress to windward more difficult still

As the third leg of the EDS Atlantic Challenge approaches a thrilling climax, the weather gods are intent on making life as difficult as possible for the leaders. The shallow waters ferment a short, vicious chop on which it is impossible to avoid slamming the hull and violently shaking the boat. Strong headwinds make the situation considerably worse.

“We are still in shallow water with strong headwinds and it’s quite bumpy out here,” said Kingfisher’s co-skipper Ellen MacArthur today. “We are well reefed down and just hanging on through this current weather pattern.”

While Kingfisher closes in, skipper Gael le Cleac’h has changed tactics: rather than pressing on and relying on their excellent reading of the weather patterns, Sill is now match racing to keep a cover on Kingfisher. With the fleet still over 1,000 miles from Baltimore, this is more likely to be a reaction to the damaged main than a tactical decision.

“The wind will get lighter after this front, said Le Cleac’h, “and we have some concern that Ecover has better speed than us, but we are in a controlling position and feel well positioned for the rest of this leg to Baltimore.”

Figures polled at 1356 indicate that Kingfisher’s marginal speed advantage is having an effect. She has reduced the lead from 33 miles to 31 in six hours while Mike Golding’s Ecover has taken 12 miles off Sill’s lead to remain 94 miles from the lead. If Ecover, primarily a downwind boat, can sustain the pressure despite the conditions, Golding has every chance of winning this leg, especially with Sill opting to engage Kingfisher in match racing.

“We have made a strategic move to the south in advance of tomorrow’s forecast,” said Golding. “Part of our reasoning is that Sill and Kingfisher are in danger of running out of runway (sea room) with Nova Scotia right there. The other part is that we expect to have a better wind angle once the wind goes light and into the northwest.

“We’re absolutely fine,” said Golding between slams, “just trucking along. It’s pretty boring, actually.”

Josh Hall’s Gartmore is also getting a bit of a pasting – not shallows this time as Gartmore is still mid-Atlantic but the wind over the Gulf Stream tide is equally troublesome. “Some of the waves have no back to them,” said Hall. “We ride up the front side of the waves okay, but then the boat just launches itself into the air and free-falls into the troughs shaking the rig and the crew. This is repeated every 15 seconds or so.”

“We had a problem in the night,” Hall added. “The mainsheet snapped. We had to drop the main, lead a new sheet and then hoist the main again. I sailed all the way around the world in the Vendée with the same mainsheet. The fact that this one broke after only two weeks tells a lot about the punishment we have been taking.”

Router Ken Campbell is forecasting lighter winds for the leaders as they battle their way inshore to escape the Gulf Stream. “The strong winds will not last much longer for the leaders as an approaching cold front will bring a lighter wind regime for tonight and Thursday.

“Winds will be much lighter after the cold front passes. This will lead to very light winds within 25 miles of the Nova Scotia coast during Thursday.” The girls of AlphaGraphics are still enjoying tradewinds and are now headed west but they are now over 1,000 miles off the lead.

EDS Atlantic Challenge
Leg Three, Portsmouth – Baltimore: Distance To Finish at 13561. Sill Plein Fruit (Gael Le Cleac’h) 1,217 miles2. Kingfisher (Ellen MacArthur) 33 miles3. Ecover (Mike Golding) 100 miles4. Gartmore (Josh Hall) 486 miles5. AlphaGraphics (Helena Darvelid) 1,006 milesFila (Andrea Scarabelli) RTD