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17 May 2005, 01:29 pm
Lead Changes Hands
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2004/2005 Global Challenge

BP Explorer was the first of the Global Challenge yachts to cross the equator yesterday and re-enter the Northern Hemisphere, seven months after they left it. They continue to lead this morning, just ahead of VAIO and BG SPIRIT, as the fleet approaches the area where the doldrums traditionally strike.
The lead yachts are now 3º north of the equator just short of the typical doldrums area of 5-8º north, but they are still bowling along at an average of ten knots in winds from the southeast.

However, those at the front have seen the wind start to shift to the west and reduce in strength, which will be slowing them down this morning. The teams towards the back of the fleet will have been hoping the doldrums prompted a 'concertina effect', dramatically reducing the distance between the first and last yacht.

Unfortunately for them, there is a chance the leading yachts could break into the northeast trade winds relatively quickly, while those further back are hindered by the doldrums for longer.

For now, the first four yachts have forged ahead. They are 11nm from one another in terms of distance to finish, then there is a gap of 28nm between fourth place SAIC La Jolla and fifth place Spirit of Sark.

BP Explorer has a 4nm advantage over second place VAIO and a 7nm advantage over third place BG SPIRIT.

'We are currently at 2º north,' wrote SAIC La Jolla's Greig TAYLOR (GBR) this morning, 'and so are well into doldrums territory according to Brazilian and French weather sources … we're carefully monitoring both. However, neither has predicted that we would be maintaining 11-13 knots VMG in what is supposed to be the most windless area on the planet!'

'Having covered 245 miles in the last 24 hours this could be one very quick skip through the doldrums,' continued TAYLOR, 'but it is never that easy or straightforward so we are expecting to become becalmed very shortly. With VAIO and BP Explorer directly in front of us, and BG SPIRIT losing ground, watch this space.'

BP Explorer skipper David MELVILLE (GBR) is all too aware of the fragile nature of their lead and is looking forward to pushing beyond the uncertainty and ongoing threat of becoming becalmed, 'Until we pass through the ITCZ [Intertropical Convergence Zone - Ed] and see what losses and gains are made during that period, I suppose I feel a little bit vulnerable.'

Top of the overall results table by two points, consistency has been the key to BP Explorer's success. 'Stop the race now,' joked MELVILLE, 'Give us the cup! There's no prize for reaching the equator, there's nothing. As Imagine It. Done. found out none of it matters until the end and I think you can gurantee that things will change as we go into the Northern Hemisphere and through the ITCZ.'

'We're bound to slow up at the front and then the other boats will crowd in on us, but I think its how we react to the second half of the race that will dictate things. I take nothing for granted!'

The next psychologically significant milestone for the crews is fast approaching - the small matter of the point at which they have circumnavigated the world under sail. 'We are also due to cross our outbound track in a day or so,' writes Paula REID (GBR) from Team Stelmar today, 'and that will mean that 15 of us will have circumnavigated the world - another huge milestone in our lives. It's difficult to believe, the fact that we will have sailed all the way round the world!'

Dan Wedgwood (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Boom repairs on leader, BP Explorer:© Challenge Business
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