Sebastien Josse and Simon Fisher skipper and navigator of ABN AMRO TWO, have been doing a great job with weather prediction, putting the white boat in the right place to make the best use of the strongest winds. It looks as though the hours of do it yourself weather routing during the Vendee Globe single handed race that he sailed are paying off.
Overnight Sebastien took ABN AMRO TWO from being furthest east to being furthest west, following the forecast that more pressure, though perhaps at a less advantageous angle, was available out on that side. They have stayed in the bigger breezes, but across the course the winds are easing and veering, going from north to northeast.
The strong low which caused 50 knot winds for the fleet off the Portuguese coast Saturday night through Sunday, is drifting slowly to the west through the Straits of Gibraltar and south of Portugal. At the same time, strong high pressure is building over the northeast Atlantic Ocean between the Azores and Ireland. The strong change in barometric pressure between the high and the low generated the strong winds. These winds will remain where they are, but as the fleet still racing gets further southwest they will put distance between themselves and the breeze.
Conditions have eased along the Portuguese coast for The Black Pearl and movistar. Winds are from the northeast so the breeze blowing from the land is lighter than the long fetch northerlies they struggled through while getting the boats to safety.
The strongest winds are north of Madeira, so as the leading pack of four boats has moved southwest of Madeira, they have seen their winds drop significantly over the last few hours. This trend should stabilise as the northeasterly trade winds become the predominant wind maker for them. Synergy and Friends will remain under the influence of the strong winds around the low for another 12-24 hours, but they should experience easing winds later today and tomorrow.
Tactically, the leading pack will face an important decision shortly on exactly where to gybe back toward the south. The wind has been veering right causing their courses to become increasing westerly. The navigators will be assessing where to best position the boat for the coming trade winds and the dash down to the doldrums. This will necessitate a gybe from starboard to port in order to continue on the shortest course toward the scoring gate at Fernando de Noronha.
For ABN AMRO ONE and TWO, Brazil 1, and Ericsson, relatively moderate and steady northeast winds at 15-20 knots can be expected for the next couple of days. Winds may drop a little later tomorrow. For Synergy and Friends, strong, near gale force northerly winds will continue for the next 12 hours, but then winds should start to decrease, dropping below 20 knots by tonight.
During the night, between the 0000 and 0400 poll, Brasil 1, sailing deeper than ABN AMRO TWO, took a narrow lead, just one mile. They have continued to edge east compared to ABN AMRO TWO, but as the forecast above says above, there is a big decision to make soon, to gybe or not to gybe. Adrienne Cahalan, Brasil 1's navigator will be in constant conversation with skipper Torben Grael, working out the angles, the advantages and the moment to go. At the moment it looks as though Brasil 1 is well positioned to take maximum advantage from the change of course, though that could change if ABN AMRO TWO stays in the stronger winds for longer. ABN AMRO TWO might have to gybe first as they are likely to be sailing in a more northeasterly wind sooner than the boats to the east.
As predicted, the Farr boats began their charge back to the front as soon as the conditions eased. But, while Brasil 1 has had their moment in front, there is further to go for Ericsson. They took 11 miles out of the leader up to 0400, but Brasil 1 did better, grabbing 15 miles to go into the lead.
In the lighter downwind conditions the debate will start about the decision of taking a spinnaker pole or not. To save weight and in the knowledge that they would need to sail higher angles in the lighter winds, and doubtless in the hope that stronger winds would prevail, the two ABN AMRO boats went without a pole. The two Farr boats still in the race went with a pole, hoping to maximise on their acknowledged light weather prowess.
At the 1000GMT poll, 14 November, the positions are Brasil 1 leading by just a mile from ABN AMRO ONE, with ABN AMRO TWO a further nine miles from their senior partner. Ericsson seems to have stopped gaining on the leader and have dropped back four miles since the 0400GMT poll; they are now 18 miles from Brasil 1. Boat speeds have dropped across the fleet, with Brasil 1 down to 15.5 knots at the poll, ABN AMRO ONE and TWO at just over 17 knots and Ericsson at 16.8.
Spare a thought for Sunergy and Friends; they are 254 miles from the leader and still have to make Madeira and nip in for that pit stop to repair the boom. It's a long way to go for them, but at least they are still out there and plugging on.
For the two injured boats, thinks are looking better. A strangely quiet Pirates of the Caribbean - nothing from Paul Cayard since what must have been a devastatingly disappointing moment - is now in Cascais and doubtless the repair team are swarming all over the boat.
This report was sent in by team General Manager Kimo Worthington yesterday evening: "The communication systems on board are not yet functioning, but I am in contact with Paul via satellite phone continually. At 0500 this morning, there was a strong vibration on the boat that lasted approximately 15 minutes. Erle Williams went off watch to do a boat check and saw lots of water around the keel structure. Upon closer examination he saw that the lid on the fish tank (the cofferdam around the keel pivot) was being pushed up by the water pressure, causing the water to come out. At the time, the wind was at 25 to 35 knots and the boat was travelling at 30 knots. Paul came to assess the situation and made the decision to slow the boat down, which took about an hour. After the boat slowed, the leak stopped. The boat is now headed to shore and currently about 106 miles from destination Cascais, Portugal. The storm jib and tri-sail are up, wind at 40 to 50 knots. Shore team is on its way to meet the boat in Cascais. All is under control. We will continue to provide updates."
movistar is still slowly plodding on towards Portugal where the damage will be assessed. Skipper Bouwe Bekking sent this dispatch: "We are nearing the South Portuguese coast, and it looks like we have at least saved the boat, as the wind has dropped now to an acceptable 15 knots. All yesterday we had sustained winds between 30 -50 knots, with massive waves which were pounding us side on. Not very pleasant, especially when you don't know if the remaining structure would stay in one piece."