Mike Sanderson and team on ABN AMRO One concede lead in effort to re-position themselves for complicated weather system ahead 21/2/06

Just after 2300 GMT last night, Mike Sanderson and his ABN AMRO One team gybed sharply and charged south to re-position itself for the complicated weather pattern that lies ahead of the first ice gate. As a result of this tactical decision, they have conceded the lead in leg 4 to Seb Josse and the kids on ABN AMRO Two, who maintained their more northerly passage and remain closest to Rio de Janeiro.

At the 0400 GMT sched Sanderson had dramatically gone from first to last, cutting a path across the rest of the Volvo 70s. However, by the following position report at 1000 GMT, ABN AMRO ONE had overtaken movistar and was locked in battle with Pirates of the Caribbean at the southern tip of the fleet.

The fleet has now effectively split into two packs to tackle the remnants of a tropical storm, with ABN AMRO Two and Brasil 1 electing to stay north and the rest of the boats keeping further south. Mike Sanderson alluded to the issue in yesterday’s e-mail, stating: “It looks like our play to the east to keep both options open of going over the top or underneath of this up-coming tropical low will cost us some distance on the fleet.”

He continued: “The ice way-points look like they are going to make our trip to the Horn pretty grim as this tropical storm is going to make its way down so that it is getting there about the same time as us. At the moment going over the top of it looks like it would be the riskier move as it seems that the majority of the fleet anyway are going to go underneath?”

Sanderson concluded: “Going underneath though you stand the risk of the thing moving faster south and you ending up in 40 knots of wind and bashing your way up-wind to get to the gates! It is going to make for some fun viewing for you guys at home, especially if at least one boat has a go over the top…”

Sanderson’s gamble seems to have him well placed at the bottom of the fleet to pick up best of winds from the storm and all eyes will be on the next sched to see if his manoeuvre has paid dividends.

In the meantime, Seb Josse and Simon Fisher (navigator) look to be gambling on the northerly pass, although they are only 20 miles ahead of the fleet and still have time to make their own charge south. Torben Grael on Brasil 1 looks to be joining the kids. As Si Fi noted yesterday: “Before long it will be crunch time and we will have to commit to which side of the ex-tropical storm we will go. Until now we have been biding our time and going east as fast as we can while our decision has been unclear, but the sand in the hour glass is now running low and we will have to hedge our bets and see if the others follow…”

The next position report should make very interesting viewing as the entire Volvo Ocean fleet struggle with tactical decisions and weather routing conundrums that could have a major impact on who reaches the ice gate first and can head back down south for the sail to Cape Horn.