To the south of the fleet - and to the east and west there is the conventional Southern Ocean pattern of large eastward moving low pressure systems. The fleet is currently between two of these systems and experiencing the strong westerly to southwesterly winds associated with the low pressure system to the south east. They have not encountered the conditions associated with the low-pressure systems to the southwest, as yet.
Complicating this normally ordinary scenario is a small, very intense low-pressure system approaching from the north.
This is a completely unusual situation for this latitude (30-40 degrees south) as this area is usually dominated by high-pressure cells. Looking at the approaching low, there is the probability that this will bisect their existing high pressure system currently stationary there into two separate cells and move into the fleet area.
We asked Cal TOMLINSON, Challenge Business' Sailing Manager the impact of this to the yachts. He explained: 'In terms of what this offers the fleet there is the possibility of fresh to strong downwind conditions that would last about 12 - 18 hours before the fleet encounter conditions from the west northwest associated with the conventional eastward moving low pressure system to the south west.'
'Such intense low-pressure systems can be unstable in direction and so all this is far from certain but will the crews dig out the spinnakers that haven't been seen since rounding Tasmania?'
As the fleet approaches Waypoint Bravo every wind shift becomes that much more critical. If they over commit to one then there is the possibility they might over stand the mark, which will mean extra and unnecessary distance sailed to get to the mark and the possibility of a shake-up in the leaderboard.
The conditions we have been describing onboard have been some of the most challenging the crews will have experienced to date. Challenging too because of the relentless pummelling they are getting with seemingly no respite. It is even getting to the skippers, as James ALLEN (GBR) explains as he leads his team, Me to You through the quagmire that is the Southern Ocean:
'The crew have been taking a bashing, luckily mostly bumps and bruises, as the waves continually wash them around on the foredeck. I am currently walking around feeling like an old man with a war wound after a wave wrapped me around the inner forestay during a sail change yesterday. My leg is just badly bruised but boy does it hurt and trying to hobble around a 45-degree deck is interesting to say the least! I am sure many of the crews are feeling similar.
'The boat has also taken a beating. Last night we broke six stanchions. These are the stainless steel posts, which hold the guard wires up around the outside of the boat. The constant pounding of the waves against them finally took it's toll. Today we had to repair what we could and replace the rest, not a job I was looking forward to on a boat pounding through the waves in 35 knots of wind! A boat without guard wires is not a nice place to be. Anyway we have now repaired down one side of the boat and once we tack later tonight we will repair the other side. We would not normally want to attempt these repairs in the present conditions but they are set to deteriorate further so it had to be done.'