Stress at the sharp end of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet as wind begins to drop

As the fleet in the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-06 falls into lighter breeze the teams are feeling the pressure again. Every navigator is burning the midnight oils, trying to predict the weather from their forecasts and covering their backs, trying to insure the opposition doesn’t squeeze past.

Brasil 1 (Torben Grael) has taken the lead in the past 12 hours as they are the most easterly yacht therefore the nearest to the finish, but they are not the most southerly yacht. Navigator Adrienne Cahalan, and her skipper Torben Grael, made the decision to head east a few days ago, which, at the time, looked like a risk-taking decision. They were the only yacht taking this view, but now it could be paying off.

“The fleet is getting closer and closer together and nerves are being stretched as we all choose the moment to turn the corner around the high pressure system and head more directly towards Cape Town.” Writes Adrienne Cahalan today. “We are on the inside so we are probably on the edge of the lighter wind, but that is the trade off for sailing shorter miles. We have covered 4,600 miles since the start but after Fernando, not all of it has been towards Cape Town. As Torben says it is only the Father who knows who will come out in the best position.”

Mike Sanderson (ABN AMRO ONE) has also been feeling the stress, which is understandable as his lead over the rest of the fleet has diminished greatly over the past two days as he hit the brick wall of fickle breeze. He is still currently 54 nautical miles south of his team mates on ABN AMRO TWO (Sebastien Josse) and he and his team are feverishly trying to eek out every tenth of a knot that they can.

“What stinks is sitting here watching a lead that you chipped away at day after day get swallowed up in a few lousy scheds, as that is exactly what has happened and still is happening for that matter. The smaller of the two high pressures that had to move aside and join up with the big south Atlantic high has decided that it is going to park itself right where we need to go.”

However, the younger brothers on ABN AMRO TWO are feeling pretty happy with themselves. Si Fi (Simon Fisher) explained the reason for their cheery outlook. “It has been an exciting time for us, having seized the lead (from Ericsson) the mood is tense as we battle to extend and protect our position. A sail change on one boat is quickly matched by a change on the other and boats have been moving around the ocean like they are connected by elastic, one never getting too far away before the other somehow manages to catch up. This surely is what offshore racing is all about.”

Today at 0900 GMT Sunergy and Friends passed the scoring gate at Fernando de Noronha, not only scoring one and half points but allowing them to achieve another milestone in the race to Cape Town. The crew on board this yacht are definitely the clear winners when it comes to optimism, but naturally they are missing home like the rest of the fleet as Campbell Field told us this afternoon.

“We all know it’s Friday, and would love to pop down the pub after our watch for a quick pint and grab some fish and chips on the way home. We’d also love to take a shower, put on some clean clothes, eat a solid meal, use a toilet that is not persistently trying to buck you off, use a toothbrush that you are certain is yours because it is exactly where you left it, have some sugar with our coffee – all not necessarily in that order. It’ll just have to wait for another 10 days.”