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16 February 2005, 02:28 pm
Bashing To Windward
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Oryx Quest 2005

At the 10:00 GMT poll Daedalus had reduced the distance between themselves and Cheyenne to just seven miles. Tony BULLIMORE and his team were sailing at 17 knots against 13 knots on Cheyenne.
Original story - It's all about VMG, or Velocity Made Good for the boats racing the Oryx Quest 2005. As any racing sailor knows, when you are sailing to windward it's not so much your speed through the water that counts, but rather the speed at which you are closing on the windward mark. In this case the windward mark is somewhere off Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia, some 1,800 nautical miles away. The yachts are sailing upwind in nasty conditions as they skirt the edge of a large high pressure system located directly to the south of them. The clockwise circulation around the High is generating moderate southeasterly winds and for boats heading in a southeasterly direction, that's right on the nose. Multihulls are probably the worst boats for sailing to windward and the conditions on board are grim.

In a shorter-than-normal email, Brian THOMPSON, the skipper of Doha 2006 described the conditions. "Life on board is wet and bumpy," he wrote. "Foul weather gear, boots and helmets have taken over from shorts and t-shirts, more for the volume of spray than the air temperature. We are now at the equivalent latitude to the Virgin Islands and the conditions are similar, except no green hills, beaches and smooth water in sight. I am on the leeward hull which is lurching back and forward like a test bed for seatbelts." It will be the same on all the boats which probably accounts for the lack of email logs being sent. The wordy Paul LARSEN, also on Doha 2006, has yet to send his lengthy missive.

The conditions are not going to improve, at least for the forseeable future. The high pressure system is forecast to move slightly to the west and the boats are going to have to short tack around the edge of the system sailing the fine line between keeping the speed up, and not breaking the boat. Richard SILVANI from Météo France, the man in charge of forecasting for the Oryx Quest 2005, described the situation. "Once they get past this high pressure system they should pick up some pretty strong winds below the 40th parallel. From that point onwards they should really be able to get going. But that isn't going to happen just yet. About two-and-a-half to three days from now, depending on how they get through that high pressure area. Until then, tactics and strategy will still be the prime concern for all the crews."

There are two different schools of thought happening on the leading boats. Olivier de KERSAUSON and his tactical team on Geronimo have been sailing a slightly higher course than Doha 2006 while matching their speed. The result has been better VMG which transates into a respectable lead on the fleet. At the 06:00 GMT poll on Wednesday morning Geronimo had stretched their lead to just over 100 miles.

The position reports do not seem to be bothering Brian THOMPSON on Doha 2006 as he explained in his log. "We have taken a very different path to Geronimo by heading more southerly, trying both not to crash into too many waves and also get to the southern expressway as soon as possible." Thompson knows that beyond the high pressure system strong westerly winds await, and he is intent on being first to get into the favorable conditions. For now, however, he needs to be careful that the high does not move over the top of him, sucking the wind out of the sails and leaving the boat becalmed. The only thing worse than watching Geronimo lift out to windward by sailing higher and faster, is to watch them stay in the breeze while you sit flopping about on a glassy ocean. Meanwhile on Geronimo De Kersauson seems smug with the way the game is playing out. "On board the Capgemini/Schneider Electric trimaran it's all turning over nicely," de Kersauson said. "With 80% of the crew having been around the world twice already with Geronimo, there's no problem. Every task is completed quickly and impeccably. That's what makes this crew a real pleasure to work with." For now the crew work and tactics are working to the trimaran's advantage, but the relentless pounding could easily tilt the hand to one of the other boats.

It may be a conicidence, or it may be luck, but something notable recently happened and Cheyenne is the beneficiary. Sailors are a supersticous lot and a few days ago an email request came in from Mark FEATHERSTONE on Cheyenne. He was very perturbed to discover that Cheyenne was drawn in green on the Oryx Quest website. Green is bad luck for sailors and the simple fact that the schematic boat was green may have accounted for Cheyenne's relative lack of performance. As soon as Mark's email was received, the boat colour was changed and Cheyenne immediately picked up speed, rocketing ahead of Tony BULLIMORE and the crew on Daedalus. At the same 06:00 GMT poll Cheyenne had opened up a sixty-five mile lead on Daedalus. They are also dealing with the bumpy sailing and like Doha 2006 and Geronimo they will have to hunker down and hold on until this stage of the race is behind them.

Brian Hancock
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