Keeping a sharp weather eye, meteorologists maintin a watch on a potentially dangerous tropical cyclone

It’s either feast of famine for the five skippers with Auckland on their minds. At 0944 GMT this morning, Minoru Saito and Neal Petersen remained entrapped by the now famous central Tasman Sea high-pressure system. Saito, who in the last several hours had eked out a 7-mile lead over Petersen, was 682 miles from the finish line and making a not-so-rollicking two-plus knots. Petersen was also coasting at less than three knots. Clearly, the lads were in a wind-free zone. But that may not last much longer. And when the breeze does fill, it may be a huge example of having too much of a good thing.

Today’s weather briefing from fleet meteorologists at Commanders’ Weather leads off with this advisory: ‘Tropical cyclone/hurricane Dani was [yesterday] located near [15 S/166 E]. Max sustained winds are 80 knots. Central pressure is 970 millibars. Dani was moving SSE at 6 knots. Dani will accelerate during the next 24 hours and it appears that Dani will move across New Caledonia on Thursday. Dani looks to pass about 400-500 miles northeast of Auckland on Sunday/early Monday. We will monitor this system very closely as it is a potential threat.’

For Saito, Petersen, Neil Hunter, and Fedor Konioukhov – the latter two were 1,020- and 1,274-miles from the finish, respectively, early today – this is extremely bad news. In the Southern Hemisphere, low-pressure systems spin clockwise, which means that the competitors may encounter huge southeasterly winds – and seas to match – at a most unfavorable time. The extended forecast for Saturday calls for Dani-related ‘southeast gales near North Cape and maybe as far south as the Hauraki Gulf.’ At their current rate of advance, Saito and Petersen should be just off North Cape on Saturday. Commanders’ concludes today’s report with this remark: ‘Sorry, guys, it looks like when you get the big winds and seas, it will be right on your nose!’

But all that is still ahead. For the time being, light air still predominates. In a recent shoreside letter Hunter wrote, ‘The Tasman sucks. It can dish up storms and decimate a Sydney-to-Hobart fleet and it can produce calms that would frustrate an earth worm. Was starting to make good progress yesterday afternoon but when night fell the wind went poof and died leaving lumpy cross swells. Took down the headsail but the main kept flogging with the rock and roll and two more batten cars broke. So took down the main and left it down and managed to get the main halyard caught around the spreaders in the process. Couldn’t get it loose.

‘So decided to ride the rock and roll till morning when I could see what had happened and as there wasn’t any breeze we weren’t going anywhere except backwards at 0.9 knots with the current,’ he continued. ‘Then in the early morning, while still dark, the breeze began to pick up so I decided I had to bite the bullet and try and free the main halyard before a stronger breeze really came in. So out with the climbing gear and up the mast while getting bashed about in the process in the dark… It’s just starting to get light and the breeze dies again and does a few 360s in the process. Now it has picked back up and we are finally moving again…’ Hunter, sailing the 40-foot Paladin II, started off the leg by taking a Southern Ocean swim to clear a fouled rudder. If today’s extended forecast holds true, he’ll have another rugged sea tale to add to his repertoire before all is said and done.