Jersey and Glasgow have done well by being physically nearest to the finish line, but success in this race is all down to balancing the need for wind with the desire to sail the shortest route.
To put it simply, there is a large area of high pressure sitting in the middle of the south Atlantic, the aptly named South Atlantic High. This drives the winds in an anti-clockwise direction around the South Atlantic, with light winds at the centre slowly increasing towards the edges.
The route to Brazil takes the yachts north of the normal centre of the high and there lies the decision. The straight "rhumb" line to the finish theoretically passes through the lighter winds, whilst by heading further north one can follow a more circular, and therefore longer, route in potentially stronger winds.
The trick is to optimise this course, sailing the shortest route that will still keep you in good winds. The rough rule of thumb is to sail in a gentle curve toward the finish, keeping an eye on the wind strength and the barometer. If the pressure rises and the wind falls, turn to starboard away from the centre of the high. As the pressure falls and the wind increases, turn to port back toward the rhumb line.
Of course life is never as simple as that! There are many other factors as well such as choosing the optimum angle to sail down wind and of course keeping the crew sailing fast. But the other major factor is the exact position of the high. This is not stationary and varies in strength as well as location.
On the Clipper 98 race, most of the skippers charged north to get stronger winds, only to find that the high drifted off to the south and weakened leaving those teams with light winds and a longer route than the canny ones who had chosen to sail straight to the finish.
Back to the 2002 race though and London Clipper skipper Rory GILLARD summed it up when he said "the fleet are fanning out earlier than in the previous race, with Glasgow and Jersey taking the extreme south, London in the far north (been told it is warmer up there), and two groups in the middle ground. The traditional routing solution for this crossing is to follow the African coast north until a steady pressure drop is felt, indicating that the boat is north of the influence of the High, and then follow a rhumb line route to destination. There are shorter ways, however, and it remains to be seen which one works this time..."
Clipper 2002 - Race 13 Positions
|Pos||Yacht||Distance to Finish (nautical miles)|