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17 February 2005, 11:09 am
A Cat And Mouse Game
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Oyrx Quest 2005

Olivier de KERSAUSON is a man that does not mince his words. The tough French sailor is no stranger to bad weather, so when he reports that the conditions are tough on the race course, he means that they are tough, very tough.
"It's a hard slog," he said in a satellite phone call to his shore team. "The weather conditions are hard and tiring, both physically and psychologically, and it's pretty uncomfortable at the moment. The swell is heavy, the boat is banging about, and we can't do anything without hanging on to something. On deck, the crew are back in polar fleeces. It's like being in a permanent shower. You can't helm without goggles on."

All the boats in the Oryx Quest 2005 are still banging their way upwind in the southeast trades being generated by the large area of high pressure that blocks their way south. The wind blows anti-clockwise around the high and being on the north side they are getting headwinds, some of them strong enough to cause the boats to shorten sail to a heavily reefed mainsail and storm jib. On Cheyenne navigator Wouter VERBRAAK described life on board. "Conditions have been very tough for the last 24 hours," he wrote. "The seas are big and the wind is very gusty. We have been sailing under three reefs and storm jib when conditions were the worst. We just have to slow the boat down to keep it in one piece." To add to their misery the crew on Cheyenne had to stop the boat completely for an hour yesterday to fix a block on the daggerboard. It was nothing serious, but not good for speed and accounted for the sudden rapid gains made by Daedalus during the day yesterday. While they stopped they were also able to figure out the source of a large amount of water swilling about in the starboard bilge. Verbraak's log continued, "Our problem solver on board, David, has been breaking his head over the water problem but managed to find the cause of our trouble. The bilge pump exit in the hull, although quite high above the waterline, didn't cope with the large waves of the last days, so water was pouring in. The pump has been removed and the exit plugged. Another problem solved."

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It's not clear what the forecast holds for the yachts over the next 36 hours. It depends entirely on what the high pressure decides to do. It's anticipated that the center of the high will now move to the east allowing the boats to skirt around the western edge as they make their way south. It's a strategy that Brian THOMPSON and his tactical team on Doha 2006 are counting on. It's a cat and mouse game and the large catamaran is sailing a direct route south as quickly as possible, heading for the westerly winds south of the high. At the 06:00 GMT poll on Thursday Doha 2006 was just north of the latitude of Perth in Western Australia. Their nemesis, Geronimo, was 60 miles north and just over a hundred miles to the east sailing in similar conditions. Their position gives Geronimo a lead to the next waypoint of around 55 miles, but again because the waypoint is only theoretical, the lead may in fact be slightly more or slightly less. In any event it's minimal and the first boat to pick up the westerlies will have an advantage.

De Kersauson and his right hand man, Didier RAGOT, are happy with their strategy. "It's better to be closer to the wind than our rival, because it gives us greater freedom of movement," de Kersauson said. "It's a better point of control. Having said that, from the weather point of view, there's no way of knowing whether we are better placed or not at this stage. The atmosphere on board Geronimo is therefore very focussed at present. You take an option, you take a risk. Didier and I have been studying the weather charts every hour and simulating our route on the basis of the information we have. It's far from clear how we will cross this anticyclone. We could get our fingers burned, but it's not an impossible task".

On Doha 2006 the crew have been spared from having to sit below and send logs to their shore teams. Their communications equipment has a temporary problem which they hope to solve in the next day or two, by which time they should have picked up a fresh Southern Ocean breeze and be well on their way toward the Great Australian Bight.

Brian Hancock, Images: © Event Media
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