With under 12 hours to the start of The Transat 2004 race, all 37 competitors are studying weather formations on the American coast in an attempt to maximise their use of the low pressure systems rolling eastwards across the North Atlantic.
It's a scenario that Mike GOLDING, skipper of Open 60 Ecover described as: "Not uninspiringly nasty."
The analysis of various weather models will influence any early tactics and the projected course of the yachts and Golding remarked that the current weather "presents the fleet with lots of options...a perfect platform for the start of The Transat."
Will the skippers head north after clearing Lands End - the western extremity of mainland Britain - and benefit from the easterly winds spinning anti-clockwise around the upper edge of the depression, or will any decisions be moderated by the likely area of tricky and variable conditions found between Monday's low pressure system and the next depression? Conrad HUMPHREYS, skipper on 60ft monohull, Hellomoto, expects a very tactical, initial 72 hours of racing: "I'm concentrating on staying awake and remaining on the right side of any [wind] shifts."
The semi-static, mid-Atlantic 'Azores High' system is predicted to influence any conditions between the low pressure systems and is expected to bring NW winds, backing to SW, from 3-15 knots and a successful interpretation of the additional affects of this ridge of high pressure will be vital to all skippers. Nick MOLONEY, Australian skipper of 60ft monohull Skandia, expects to meet the ridge early on Wednesday morning: "The ridge is a major focus for me. The conditions are going to be fresh, but not out-of-control fresh."
Although the start conditions off Plymouth are of immediate importance and a predicted southwest breeze of 15-20 knots seems almost definite Moloney is cautious about the start: "A collision at the start would be really demoralising and sustaining damage early on would be devastating,"
adding "I'll be more than happy when we open-up and start to divide."
There will be a large number of vessels present near the start line between Penlee Point and Stadden Heights at 1400 BST today to watch the fleet begin their transatlantic challenge and Moloney is wise to be cautious; in the 1980 edition of this race (then called the OSTAR), American competitor Tom GROSSMAN on 56ft trimaran Kriter VII, left the helm and went below to fetch his stop-watch minutes before the start and collided with a Spanish yacht entered in the race. Grossman returned to Plymouth and - after some hasty fibreglass repairs - restarted the race and finished 10th overall.