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29 March 2005, 12:07 pm
Tropical Sailing
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Oryx Quest 2005

It's tropical sailing for Brian THOMPSON and his team aboard Doha 2006 as they enjoy near perfect weather just east of the Chagos Archipelago. The Qatari catamaran is steadily sailing north, heading for the eastern side of a region of high pressure that dominates the weather picture north of the equator.

At the 07:00 GMT poll on Tuesday morning Doha 2006 was 150 miles due east of Diego Garcia, the southernmost island in the Chagos group. The wind is warm and at night the crew sit on deck watching fluorescent bubbles trickle out behind the boat in two long streams of churning colour. As they approach the equator the night air is so balmy that it's hard to feel where the air ends and your skin begins. In a week's time they will be back in the traffic and jams of life on land, but for now it about as close to paradise as you can get.

Paul LARSEN picks up the balmy weather theme in his daily log. "The sunset tonight was one of, if not the best, of the trip," he wrote. "The sky had everything going on everywhere. Big dramatic cumulus, lots of high level stratus, black squalls and clear patches in between. It was very dramatic and reminded me of the ones you see painted in those huge depictions of famous battles at sea hanging in galleries. I ran around all over the place with an array of camera gear but it was just to big and beautiful to capture."

Since leaving the Southern Ocean, Doha 2006 has sailed what might seem to be an erratic course up the Indian Ocean. In fact they have followed the traditional route taken by sailing ships for over a century. In the days before modern electronics, satellite imagery and whiz-bang computers, sea captains consulted their 'bible', a thick volume entitled Ocean Passages of the World. The tome, first published in 1895, was one of the most important pieces of equipment aboard an old sailing ship. In it you could find the most up to date information about the best shipping routes to take between two ports on the planet. If you were leaving New York and sailing to England it gave coordinates that would keep you in the fair current of the Gulf Stream with the wind at your back and caution against sailing the more direct route in the strong westerlies until halfway across. More than a hundred years later most of those same routes are still the most efficient way of crossing an ocean as Will OXLEY describes in his daily log. "Cape Town to Bombay (now Mumbai) was a route frequented by the old ships and really it was their route which we have followed up the Indian Ocean," he wrote. "The directions are as follows (with my words in brackets): '...proceed to 35S 70E (we passed within 100nm of there), after which some authorities consider it more prudent to make further easting (especially if there is a cyclone), so as to be well to windward on reaching the northeast monsoon (good advice for a multihull), and make first for a position in about 25S 80E (we passed about 300nm west of there). From this point turn north ....and work up the coast of India with the land and sea breezes.' (One of our routing solutions is suggesting we do just that!) So if we had no other information than the Ocean Passages we might well have chosen a route similar to that which we took! So much for all the sophisticated weather information."

Doha 2006 is just under 400 miles south of the equator sailing at 15 knots. They have found a small trough of southwesterly wind which is allowing them to sail a direct course to the Gulf of Oman. The seas are relatively smooth and with a fat moon lighting the way, the crew are dreaming of home and future projects. These sailors make their living from racing sailboat, fast sailboats, and the discussion on board centers around the next race. Paul LARSEN elaborates in his log. "Shortly after we reach Doha the team will scatter to the corners of the earth we just sailed around, but one thing is for sure, sailing figures big in everyone's plans," he wrote. "Even after 60 odd days of nonstop sailing we can't wait to get back home... so we can all go sailing again. Sometimes we don't even stop to think how obsessed we are with the ways of wind and water. The conversations drift from one form of craft to the other, from maxi-cats, to 60' foot trimaran's, to speed sailing craft and Hobie cats, Olympic keel boats and open 7.5's... they're all there." Larsen himself has lofty goals. He and his partner, Helena DARVELID, are the team behind the Sailrocket. Their goal is to set new speed records and be the first to break the 50 knot barrier. Their craft, a revolutionary carbon fibre masterpiece is like a Ferrari on ski's powered by a single canting mast and the energy and enthusiasm of Larsen and Darvelid. Soon the giant catamaran will be traded for the tiny cockpit of the Sailrocket and the goal of setting a new on-the-water speed record for a wind powered sailboat.

While Larsen dreams and schemes, his old boss, Tony BULLIMORE, is dreaming only of a warmer climate. Team Daedalus is still in the Roaring Forties after a starboard gybe for the last two days took them further south. At 05:00 GMT this morning the crew gybed the boat once again and their new course looks set to take them north, away from the cold and toward the warmer tropics. They crew are enjoying the sailing and a little fresh food as Tony describes in his log. "The last couple of days has been fast sailing, basically going east, before we go north and make for Mauritius," he wrote. "We have rounded the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas, still creaming along at around 20 knots. One minute we get the wrong side of a big wave and slow down to 12 to 14 knots, and the next the boat is heated up and we are doing 28 to 30 knots. It is really fabulous sailing. One thing for sure, it is still very cold. All the crew are keen to get deeper into the Indian ocean, a few more degrees north. Nick LEGGATT picked up a flying fish that got caught on one of the safety nets. He says it was the biggest flying fish he had ever seen, and it did not take long for Nick to gut it and fry it up with a little oil." They are sailing due south of South Africa's 'wild coast', one of the most stunning natural coastline in the world. Again, because of the nature of nonstop around-the-world racing, they are missing some of the most scenic parts of the planet.

Brian Hancock (As Amended by ISAF)
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