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9 May 2005, 01:59 pm
Light Winds Signal Danger For SAIC La Jolla
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2004/2005 Global Challenge

SAIC La Jolla has resisted all temptations to duck back east towards the fleet. They have stuck to a risky game out west despite the constant threat of encountering lighter winds as they skirt the high-pressure system.
This morning's position report puts them back in first place as a result, dead level with Barclays Adventurer, both teams now reporting a distance of 5,196nm to the finish.

So they are top of the table today, but the danger that has been hanging over them could soon become a reality. Me to You skipper James ALLEN (GBR) has reported today they are planning to, 'travel a little north, as we are trying to avoid the lighter winds which are extending north from the high pressure system to the south of us.'

Bad news for SAIC La Jolla - if light winds do take hold to the south and west of the fleet they will suffer before teams to the east and north. Navigator John WILKINSON (GBR) is well aware of the danger, 'Just when we thought we were safely into the trade winds it seems like the South Atlantic high is coming back to bite us again! Our forecasts are now saying that the wind will be down to ten knots or so, which could make for a frustrating couple of days. The good thing is that it looks like all the boats will be affected so hopefully we can hang on to a top slot through to the Doldrums.'

BP Explorer skipper David MELVILLE (GBR) described his team's progress today and pondered their own tactical positioning relative to the fleet, 'We, like the rest of the fleet, are currently sailing easy miles,' said MELVILLE. 'The wind is dead astern, the spinnaker is permanently set, wind range is around 18-20 knots and the yacht eats up the distance, heading straight for our waypoint on the equator.'

'Stuck in the middle, ourselves and Spirit of Sark seemed to find a band of reduced wind that slowed us,' he continued. 'It may have been better to have cracked off and slid east, but then again we might have prospered out to the west too. What we do know is that given equal conditions we feel that we can beat any boat in the fleet. This gives us a residual confidence that carries us through disappointment and setback.'

Now the majority of the fleet is safely in the southeast trade winds, the teams have approximately 1,800nm, about a week and a half, of downwind sailing on the way to the next waypoint: the Islands of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The yachts are around 250nm abreast of one another but the first eight are within 25nm of one another in terms of distance to finish. With the leading pack so close, the point at which the teams cross the doldrums will be a potentially significant factor in the leg. Leg one from Portsmouth, Great Britain to Buenos Aires, Argentina saw Team Save the Children languish for many painful hours while the fleet raced away and WILKINSON also remembers the pain that the doldrums can inflict, 'We lost our lead in leg one by getting caught in a private wind hole as we crossed the Doldrums from north to south - we do not intend to let that happen again!'

For the moment though, BG SPIRIT is in a strong position. They have the choice of heading towards the main pack to the west, staying on their current course, or heading back out east. As the race to the doldrums develops this luxury may well translate into an improved position on the leaderboard.

Dan Wedgwood. Image, Hanging out on Imagine It. Done.:© Challenge Business
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