Prolific shipping, strong running currents and gale force headwinds – that’s the situation into which the seven contenders in the second leg of the EDS Atlantic Challenge are sailing

The vast majority of competitors taking part in the EDS Atlantic Challenge are very experienced offshore sailors. Many have been around the world in Open class boats or VO60s but all have been moved to comment on the conditions they are experiencing in the second leg of the EDS, from Cuxhaven to Portsmouth. One Sill crew member referred to the situation quite simply as ‘war.’

One such world girdler is Swede Helena Darvelid, skipper of AlphaGraphics, who said she had “never seen anything like it” in this area. “The waves are absolutely huge,” she added from her wildly pitching navigation station. While in no immediate danger, AlphaGraphics lost all electronics temporarily as water flooded into the hull through a hole in one of the forward ballast tanks.

Then the liferaft was torn from its mounting, obliging the all girl crew to heave-to, back up and collect it, as race regulations require. Now they have lost power again. At least they have the pleasure of watching Sun journalist Jenny Forsyth, racing with them on this leg, coping gamely with seasickness. “But she’s not that bad, she’ll be fine,” adds Darvelid doubtfully.

On Ecover, Mike Golding has accepted that his flyer into the Channel nosedived badly and is now pushing as hard as conditions allow, hoping to get back some of the 37 miles he lost to the leading boats Sill and Kingfisher. Given the prowess of these two boats upwind, his chances don’t look good.

“We’re just grinding away,” said Golding, “just plugging away, working the boat quite hard. We are pushing the boat harder than when I sail on my own, there is someone on the tiller all the time. But it’s a rough ride for everyone.”

At the front of the fleet, Roland Jourdain’s Sill is maintaining a lead of four miles over Ellen MacArthur’s Kingfisher. Having squeezed past Fila, now without wind instruments after they were stripped from the mast by a gust, Gartmore is now chasing the leaders, 24 miles distant, but without much hope. Upwind, the Finot boats are no match for the two hybrid designs currently topping the table.

“No dramas,” to report onboard Kingfisher. “We are currently 17 miles southwest of Dover, beating upwind,” said MacArthur. “Everyone is OK. As the sun set the front came through, giving us 40 knot gusts which then seemed like a lot. Right now though, 40 knots gusts seem commonplace.”

But Kingfisher’s race hasn’t been entirely without incident: “We had a small drama in getting the small solent down. I was hanging off it on the foredeck, only just managing to ease it down as it rattled wildly on its stay.”

Today’s forecast will not encourage. At 0300 this morning, Dover Strait weather buoy was recording 35-35 knots, more in gusts, and 8-12ft seas while further west up the Channel, the wind veers and, although the strength drops by five knots, the gusts recorded are stronger.

The wind will continue to veer throughout the day but tonight the fleet can expect the winds to back strongly, as a new system influences the picture, and wave heights to increase. This latest system is one of the chain of lows that almost tempted Steve Fossett’s PlayStation out of New York. This might still be rolling in when the third leg, from Portsmouth to Baltimore, starting Saturday 14 July.