Alex gives his opinion on the race so far, which has seen the lead group slow
Overnight the lead group has slowed and bunched up as they sail into the lighter winds associated with a small ridge of high pressure. Yesterday morning the difference from first to ninth was 72Nm. Now that difference has been cut to 42Nm – after 18 days of racing that is pretty incredible.
The big shaker and mover is Safran (pictured), who yesterday morning was 181Nm behind the leader and is now just 117Nm behind – a huge gain, and significant because the other boats around Marc have not managed to make the same gains. In fact Safran has been marching up the fleet for sometime. I spoke to Brian Thompson a couple of days ago who said that Safran was a rocketship in those conditions, interesting as the boats could not be further from each other conceptually. Safran, light and less powerful and Pindar, heavy and the most powerful boat in the fleet.
Foncia is still on an impressive romp, now only 300Nm behind the leader. The wind headed the fleet overnight and some of the boats tacked onto starboard for a while. Mike Golding seems to have had less wind out to the west whilst Seb Josse has made a move to the south and is now the most southerly boat in the fleet, a position that could be prosperous.
The fleet are trying to get to the first ice gate at 41s 001e, from there they are allowed to dive south into the southern ocean, but first they must get there. The South Atlantic High is still blocking their progress and the leaders will have to go down to the same latitude as the ice gate before heading east towards it. The big question is will the guys behind be able to cut the corner, and this depends on exactly when the high pressure will move to the east.
Looking back up course the weather models are predicting that a low pressure will form off the coast of Rio and make its way SE bringing strong Northly winds ahead of the front. This is a very standard situation for the south Atlantic and the speed of this depression will impact how much catching up the likes of Bahrain Team Pindar, Roxy (see below) and Foncia will be able to do.
With that still a few days away the lead group will today see their wind speeds increase by lunchtime and by early afternoon they will probably be tight reaching in 20 knots of wind. The weather routing with both the European and GFS models show all the first few boats tacking for a short while but unless the wind is really in the south I cant see all of them taking this option.
Priority number one is to get to the south of the high and pick up the westerly underneath it. The lead group look to have 15-20 knots over night tonight and then tomorrow morning the wind will start to go down, reducing all day and backing. Early Sunday we could see the first boats pop out of the high pressure and be sailing with spinnakers again.
Long term and getting to the gate, which is still at least 5 days away, could be tricky. It very much depends on the movement of the high pressure which could very easily move towards the gate and slow the leaders down again. This will be the key to how many boats are in the lead group when they hit the southern ocean properly.