It's now a week since the fleet slipped their lines in Doha and headed out into the open ocean, and it has been an interesting week for all the competitors. Perhaps the main news story should be the ding-dong dice between Doha 2006 and Geronimo, but equally interesting has been the race course, a first for any major offshore ocean race. As Brian Thompson pointed out in his log a few days ago. 'It's great to start a race from Qatar and not the windy wilds of the English Channel in February.' Traditionally around-the-world races start in the Northern Hemisphere around the coldest, darkest days of the year. The new course for the Oryx Quest 2005 allows the teams to ease into the race, and heat and hot racing have been the order of the day rather than frostbitten fingers and broken gear.
More than the weather, the route has been interesting. The Strait of Hormuz may have given the skippers some gray hair as they dodged shipping and oil rigs, but once around the bend it has been an easy sailing despite the light winds. Sea life has been abundant and has included sightings of sea snakes, an occurrence very rare in around-the-world racing. Cheyenne got visited by some Iranian fishermen no doubt intrigued to see what new fangled spaceship the Americans have come up with, while Tony BULLIMORE and his team on Daedalus have found more than their fair share of fishing nets as Tony described in his daily log. 'Can you believe it, early evening, and again in the night, we stopped dead in the water, wrapped up in fishing nets. Nick Leggatt stripped down in seconds and was over the side with a bread knife, cutting us free. We lost about 30 minutes each time round and in real terms we would have covered a distance of around 12 to 14 miles, according to our boat speed at the time.'
Despite a few unwanted entanglements, and on board Cheyenne, a serious foot infection caused by a reaction to neoprene sea boots, all the sailors have come through the first week unscathed and have reveled in the perfect sailing conditions. Once clear of land and its associated dangers, the water quickly turned a brilliant turquoise as tropical sun pounded down and a warm trade wind breeze blew strong enough for the large catamarans to fly their windward hulls. On board Daedalus the crew have settled into a ships routine and are easing their way south, the only yacht to opt for leaving the Maldive Islands to the east. Tony's log described life on board.
'The boat looks really pretty, neatly creaming along at around 15 to 16 knots, all the equipment properly stowed, Ian MUNSLOW doing some rope work by the mast, Nick BUBB on the helm, Goncalo standing with a straight back overlording his watch, and James DUNNING and Simon REDDING happily squatting on the mid-ship nets, laughing and joking. At this time, all seems so peaceful. When we get into the extremes of the Southern Ocean everybody will be pushing themselves to the limit. Boat speed, boat safety, and of course the safety of the crew is what it is all about. If we are going to take home any prizes, we have to use all our skills, all our cunning, and above all, a lot of courage, to go beyond the point of no return.'
The only boat finding it difficult to hit their stride is Dave SCULLY and his crew on Cheyenne. At the midnight GMT poll Cheyenne was negotiating the tricky waters alongside Miladhunmadulu atoll on the northern edge of the Maldives. Their speed was down to five knots and they trailed Doha 2006 by a shade under 400 miles. Scully has been handed some lousy wind cards from the start of the race and has been playing catch-up, his huge catamaran better suited to the deep south rather than the tropical trade winds. The leaders are not forgetting, however, that Cheyenne holds the outright record for the fastest circumnavigation and once into a steady, strong wind will start reeling them in a mile at a time. The first week may be history, but these are early days yet and a 400 mile deficit barely warrants mentioning.
Something that does warrant mentioning, however, is the new website for Doha 2006. If you have not the chance to stop by, click over to www.maxicatdoha.com to find images and crew logs.