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7 February 2005, 10:32 am
Close Racing in the Gulf of Oman
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Oryx Quest 2005
Doha, Qatar

The four yachts competing in the Oryx Quest 2005 are sailing down the Gulf of Oman with the leaders just south of the latitude of the Muscat, the capital of Oman. At the front of the fleet the ding dong battle between Doha 2006 and Geronimo continues with just a mile separating them on a distance-to-go basis.
The wind remains light with local conditions playing a big part in deciding which boats get the breeze, and which boats gets stuck. It appears that Cheyenne has been dealt the no-wind card and the massive catamaran is finding the light conditions tough going.

The forecasters at Meteo France have some good news and some bad news for the sailors. The good news is that the wind is forecast to fill in from the west later this morning and blow a steady 10 to 15 knots. It will increase throughout the day slowly backing into the southwest with the top wind strength reaching 25 knots. The wind will be on the beam or slightly forward, perfect for the big multihulls, however the first big obstacle of the race lies in wait. A region of high pressure has situated itself directly in the path of the yachts. It will be tactical suicide to attempt to sail directly through the center of the high; instead the skippers and their weather routers will have to decide just how close they can cut the corner without getting caught in the light conditions associated with high pressure. Cut the corner and keep the pressure is the objective. Cut it too close and find yourself becalmed is the danger. Either way the boats are going to have to skirt the western side of the high pressure and attempt to minimise extra the distance sailed.

On board Doha 2006 Australian Paul LARSEN has found some time to wedge himself into the cramped communications compartment and fire off an email describing life on board. Paul is a great communicator and we can look forward to many interesting insights into life on! board Doha 2006. Here is Paul's email in full.

"My arms feel like jelly. I'm facing aft grinding literally head-to-head with another member of the crew. There's not much left and sometimes it feels like I am just hanging on to the handles. I try and think about something else. Looking at the phosphorescent wake streaming out the back it seems we are simply using the grinders to power the boat along. The human engine. I suppose it's not far from the truth.

The first day and a half has been hard work on the 'pumps' (two man coffee grinders) with sail change after sail change. Decisions aren't made based on how tired we are but on what is needed. We've needed a lot of decisions as we negotiated the numerous obstacles on the way out of the Gulf. Despite all this the sailing has been great and all the manouvers have really helped the crew get re/acquainted with this fantastic boat. The temperature is perfect to the degree by night and warm as you would expect by day. Although our crew is extremely experienced a! t this game there is still a settling in phase that needs to be gone through whereby the experience can be combined and then refined into a system of procedures.

The start was pretty cool and it was great to see four of these craft lining up to play on the course for which they were intended. The long haul stuff. It was a shame that Cheyenne had a reef in as it was maybe the one good chance to see these boats racing evenly and alongside. As expected of the upwind, 12-14 knot start, the big tri was gaining some height on the rest of the fleet. Although we led across the line we were a lot closer when we tacked across onto starboard. Geronimo slipped across in front by a boat length or two and then proceeded to tack right on top of us which may have worked if they had of got their canting rig sorted out at the same time. They were left going upwind with the rig hanging off to leeward and hence no sheet tension on the headsail and we quickly slipped by leaving them no option but to tack back. Around the first mark we changed! to a re aching sail and quickly began to pull out some more as night settled in.

Geronimo wasn't backing off and kept coming at us. Her masthead strobe light was a clear indicator and was watched intently as conditions began to build. Reefs were dropped in and headsails constantly changed as we surfed down hill heading for the exit. With Geronimo three miles directly behind we hit something with the port rudder which caused concern and the decision was made to drop the headsails, turn the boat head to wind and reverse it for a bit to help the offending object to float free of the rudder. During this manouever Geronimo went by only a couple of hundred meters away doing 25+ knots no doubt watching with interest. The object turned out to be a shark of some sort whose number had come up. We were quickly back up to speed and off after Geronimo who was now well ahead. With winds peaking at 40 knots it didn't take long to reach the Strait of Hormuz where... we promptly parked up.

As morning broke proceeded once more up through our inventory in an effort to break three. Large sails appeared around us at various bearings all trapped in the same 'honey'. The weather had leveled the playing field and now we were all struggling to break free. With boat speeds dropping down to less than two knots, the usual game of ideas began. Cheyenne had rejoined the fray and was only a mile or two back. From a distance all you can see is this enormous roached sail and a bow. She eventually tacked off and headed east whilst Geronimo stayed inside of us. We eventually got the wind around 10:00GMT and took off once more with Geronimo in pursuit. We prepared to change to the medium gennaker but she wouldn't unfurl at the top so had to be dropped again. There was a problem with the top swivel unit that allows the sail to furl in and out. It was quickly brought back to the cockpit and fully pulled apart. The problem was spotted as being an incorrect assembl! y during the refit and she was pieced back together. All this took tim e and Geronimo slipped inside us once more as the breeze lightened again. We believe that she gybed to head more offshore whilst we held onto our course. It feels good at the moment but we are eager to hear where they are. The wind has swung onto the nose for now so it has been a case of more headsail changes.

Everyone is dead tired but conditions are improving which should allow us to all catch up on the sleep we have missed out on in the hectic past few weeks. We must fuel the human engine as much as possible. Lots of food and water as our bodies begin to harden up to the rigours of sailing one of these big, powerful boats. I think that everything that we eat will be converting straight into muscle and most of that will be around the shoulders.

It's a clear, moonless night with incredible phosphorescence in the water. 'Stars above and stars below' commented Brian. Happy days... for now."
Brian Hancock, Image: © Event Media
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