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18 February 2005, 12:09 pm
On a Southbound Train
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Oryx Quest 2005

If there is one tune being played on board the Oryx Quest 2005 yachts this morning it's "Southbound Train" by Nancy Griffiths, and the boat playing it the loudest is Doha 2006. The Qatar catamaran has hooked the edge of a Southern Ocean breeze and is sandwiched between a low pressure system to the south and that pesky high, now to their north, and they are on a fast track into the deep south.
At the 06:00 GMT poll Doha 2006 had stormed into the lead and opened up a 98 mile gap between themselves and Geronimo. It must be welcome news for Thompson and his tactical team who stuck by their guns and never wavered from their intent to be the first boat into the new wind.

Geronimo, only 70 miles to the east of Doha 2006 and therefore closer to the high pressure system, has been getting less wind and the poll tracking data shows a very slow night on board the Capgemini/Schneider Electric trimaran. Early Thursday evening the poll data showed that their speed had dropped to just 5.9 knots. Shortly thereafter de Kersauson ordered a course change away from the high and for the next six hours they sailed south instead of a more direct course that would have kept the barometer rising. By the 06:00 GMT poll their speed was back up again although Doha 2006 was still sailing faster at 22.6 knots against 16.8 knots on the trimaran. Olivier de KERSAUSON and his crew are no fools, however. They might have given up the lead for now, but their massive yacht was designed for blasting downwind and they know that as soon as the wind comes aft and starts to blow they will be giving Thompson and his team a solid run for their money.

The other boat also enjoying fast sailing is Cheyenne. Along with Daedalus they too escaped the clutches of the high pressure and kept the speed on during the night. At the 06:00 GMT poll Cheyenne was the fastest in the fleet sai! ling at 23.6 knots. On board the mood has been buoyant. "Smooth water I can't believe it is possible," wrote the navigator Wouter VERBRAAK. "Today is what you could describe as perfect sailing conditions. We are in the fast lane, and enjoying it. In the last week the winds have either been too light for this boat, or the seas have been too rough to allow for speed. We never seemed to find the right conditions for our lady. Now at the entrance gate to the Southern Ocean, we get one day of relief." Indeed, Cheyenne's position at 34 degrees south is on the fringes of the big winds. Like Geronimo, Cheyenne is built for sailing the big waves. A few years after the boat was launched the owner, Steve FOSSETT, ordered new bows. Until then the catamaran had a nasty propensity to nosedive in big seas. The new bows added 6 metres (20 feet) to the overall length and a lot of buoyancy up front where it was sorely needed. The result is a rather ungainly looking boat, but one that that thunders along when the wind is up and the seas dangerously high. Doha 2006, the nimble cat, is going to have her work cut out for her as the big tri and Cheyenne take up chase across the south seas.

The crews on all the boats have settled into the rhythm of life at sea and are eagerly anticipating another season change as the weather turns colder. The water temperature is dropping quickly and the result on Cheyenne is a problem with condensation inside the boat. Verbraak's log continues. "At the start of this trip we got handed out waterproof outerskins for our sleeping bags. I have only ever used these when camping outdoors without a tent in Scotland. It never occurred to me that I would need one inside a boat. If the current condensation with still quite high temperatures is anything to go by, the next weeks will have our living quarters turn into a rain forest."

On board Daedalus Tony BULLIMORE is also enjoying the ideal sailing conditions. Despite being the smallest of the big multihulls, Daedalus has undergone a serious weight saving program including removi! ng the e ngines and replacing them with generators. They also have a new suit of Quantum sails and the result is a boat that has been able to keep pace with the larger yachts. Tony's always upbeat logs describe life on board. "Daedalus is sailing along beautifully in comfortable seas and moderate winds," he wrote. "Another fast days sailing with average speeds of around 22 to 23 knots. In fact, we did reach speeds of 27 to 28 knots for a short time. It has been tremendous sailing and we feel that the boat is going better than she has ever gone throughout her racing years. We have got a short job list to attend to before we leave the Indian Ocean. This is quite normal after covering several thousand miles. The generators are checked over, oil, filters etc. All deck fittings are checked over, rigging, split pins, shackles and blocks. The galley needs a complete clean and sorting out, and of course, the heads and stowage area for the crew will also be looked at. Once everything is reorganised and ready for the job, we will be able to go on with absolute confidence. It won't be long before we are in a colder climate and then we can put our foot down as hard on the throttle as possible and really get going."

At the 06:00 GMT poll Daedalus was trailing Cheyenne by 25 miles sailing at a shade under 16 knots. The British skipper, whose nickname is "the bulldog" for his dogged determination, is not about to let the larger boats get away. Almost two weeks into the race Tony and his relatively inexperienced crew are only 350 miles behind Doha 2006 with their all-star team. It's a fine performance for an older boat and dare I say, senior citizen skipper.
Brian Hancock
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