Lead yacht Spirit of Sark is now only approximately 480nm from Waypoint Alpha. Designed to keep the fleet away from the worst of the ice, which can break up and drift north at this time of year, it will also be a key psychological and tactical turning point.
In the expanse of the Southern Ocean, it has served as a target for the crews: a more tangible bulls eye than Wellington, still more than 3000nm away.
"First big news is that we are now only 300nm from half way,"
writes Simon Walding from Pindar
today. "Although this point of rolling sea will look identical to all the others, it will have great significance for the crew, because we will finally be heading in rather than out; closer to the ones dear and the things we miss rather than further away from them."
In tactical terms, the waypoint will also prompt a choice for the skippers and their onboard tacticians. At present the fleet is heading for the mark in a procession, trying to squeeze every possible knot of boat speed from their sails. "The tactical game can start again once we have rounded Waypoint Alpha,"
explained Dee Caffari, skipper of Imagine It. Done
, "and the fleet will split north and south again for the remaining 2600 miles. We will have nothing to lose so we can afford a flyer if the weather window arrives."
David MELVILLE, skipper of BP Explorer
, thinks the psychological aspect is more significant. "You feel like you've arrived somewhere,"
said David this afternoon, "and we'll have less miles to go than we have already sailed."
He also reported that BP Explorer
is currently experiencing "30 knots, hard on the wind on a port tack and bashing along - a fairly typical day down here really!"
Conditions are obviously remarkably challenging, but Tim Johnston's injury on Team Stelmar
has reminded the crews that they signed up for an incredibly tough race. Safety has always been paramount in Global Challenge races, but there is always an element of risk when undertaking a passage across the Southern Ocean.
Don KRAFFT, usually found towards the back of the yacht in his roles as navigator, trimmer and helmsman, describes the conditions at the sharp end aboard Me to You
"Yesterday I ventured onto the forepeak in heavy seas to dig up a storm staysail and was stunned by the brutal lurching of the bow as we dropped off steep waves. The bow falls and feels like it's hitting concrete and then jerks violently and unpredictably to one side or the other. I was tossed around like a matchstick in a tempest."
He went on to say, "I have the greatest respect for our foredeck crew who work in that environment with the added danger and discomfort of huge and powerful waves breaking over them. There will be beers on the bar for those guys in Wellington!"
Kat WARDalso described the conditions today: "We are storming along, bow heading deep into the oncoming waves, running away from low-pressure system after low-pressure system."
She went on to note that in addition to the usual set of challenges, the low-pressure systems barreling through, "all seem to have north-westerlies, and our waypoint is… yes, northwest of us!"
The yachts' progress to the waypoint will be easier when the wind backs to the southwest again as predicted, allowing a faster and perhaps relatively more comfortable wind angle after beating into the wind today. But the rough stuff will probably continue through the night until the low-pressure system passes the fleet, takes the southwesterlies with it, and leaves a patch of lighter airs between systems.