- Broken gear likely to affect positions – As one of the most critical points of the race approaches some boats could suffer boat speed problems as a result of being unable to change sails rapidly
- One chance, make it a good one – Once crews have decided which route to take through the doldrums, they’ll have to stick to it
- Shifting Trades – The fleet could experience light airs even after the doldrums
- Without shadow of a doubt – The 30-mile wind shadow off Ilha Trindade is definitely one to avoid
- South is fast – In order to avoid the South Atlantic High the fleet will curve south to pick up stronger tail winds
With the recent stream of gear failures, the next few days could see some dramatic place changes as crews are unable to get full potential from their boats. Grant Dalton’s second and remaining masthead spinnaker lock jammed and broke yesterday (Sunday) during a particularly blustery weather system. Now, in what is possibly the most vulnerable part of the race so far – the drag race south from Ihla da Trindade to Cape Town – where boat speed relies not only on optimum sail trim but also on frequent sail changes, boats such as Amer Sports One which is unable to change sails rapidly could lose out big time, particularly as the fleet is so close together. Djuice Dragon, currently lying in last position, is also suffering with her broken headboard car. Limping around the course with her sail temporarily lashed to the mast head has seriously affected her performance and until she picks up spares in a few days time at the island of Fernando de Noronha, and rectifies the problem, the chances of top performance on this potentially fast Norwegian boat, are looking pretty slim.
Although illbruck Assa Abloy and Tyco have entered the doldrums over to the west, which is the obvious choice considering the next way point (Fernando de Noronha) is on that side of the Atlantic and the doldrum band is narrower in that area, it will be interesting to see how SEB, the gambler of the fleet, tackles the situation. Well over to the east at the moment, she could decide to go for an early entry in a effort to pick up the Easterly Wave – stormy wind clouds which start as a dust storm in the Sahara and spreads over 50 miles from east to west sometimes bringing with it 40 knot gusts. While intercepting the wind clouds is a bit of a lottery, for SEB who is now lying 150 miles behind the leader, it could be worth the risk. One thing for sure however, is that whichever doldrums route is decided upon whether it be the longer easterly route or the shorter westerly route crews will have to stick to their decisions and exit the doldrums asap.
Once the fleet emerges from the doldrums which is likely to take a couple of days, they’ll be looking to pick up the Trade Winds which, because they’re from the south-east rather than from the north, should be more reliable. However, there is a slight risk that the wind band could shift further south leaving the fleet wallowing in a no wind zone once again.
The next waypoint, Ilha Trindade – 600 miles east of Rio de Janeiro – is where the fleet has to make the next route decision. This incredibly tall, five-mile long island, is renowned for its vast wind shadow which stretches 30 miles out to sea. While clipping the island close is the most direct route, crews will be only too aware of the fate that befell some of the yachts which cut it fine in the previous VOR which left them wallowing in no winds while the rest of the fleet, further out, had picked up the westerly tail wind.
As the fleet rounds the island, the aim is to get in to the strong favourable winds to the south to avoid the St Helena High Pressure Zone to the south-east of the island. Once in the stronger winds the fleet can then enjoy taste of things to come on the edge of the Roaring 40s.
While the dull, windless conditions have given crews more