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18 December 2002, 10:29 am
Going Deeper
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Billy Black

Around Alone - Leg Three
Cape Town (RSA) - Tauranga (NZL)

Thierry Dubois on Solidaires and Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group/Armor lux are going deeper. Deeper into the Southern Ocean.

They are currently sailing well below the rest of the fleet at between 43 and 44 degrees south. Only Graham Dalton on Hexagon seems to be following them while the rest of the yachts seem content to ride along the 40th parallel. Each degrees on latitude is 60 miles, so they are almost 250 miles south of the other Around Alone boats and continuing to separate.

Stamm and Dubois are heading for the shorter southerly route because the weather models show more wind. But there is danger in going too far south. The ice this year is quite far north, and once south of 45 degrees there will be a real danger of running into some. Icebergs are not a problem; the sailors can pick them up visually or on radar. It's the growlers, or bergy bits, chunks of ice that break off the main iceberg, that pose a threat. They are the size of a small car and just as lethal as if you hit the main berg. A rule of thumb for all sailors transiting this region is to always pass icebergs on their windward side (The side that the wind is blowing from) because the pieces that break off drift to leeward.

The second danger going south is that it's hard to come back up north again. As the low pressure systems approach from the west they bring with them a strong northerly component. The stronger winds are usually on the east side of the system, and the north winds make it hard for the sailors to keep a course that is anything but south of east. In past around the world races many competitors have found themselves forced deeper into the Southern Ocean, and have struggled to get back north again. Thierry and Bernard will be keeping a wary eye on the systems marching up from behind.

The third and perhaps most crucial reason to avoid going south, is because of headwinds. The low pressure systems that propel the yachts across the Southern Ocean spin in clockwise direction. If the center of the low is south of the yacht, then the skipper can expect winds from the west, or at least to have some west in it. Most of the lows that track down south do so between 40 and 50 degrees south and should the skipper find himself too far south, there is a danger of one of the low pressure systems going over the top of him and bringing with it easterly winds. This is absolutely the last thing an Around Alone sailor wants. His yacht is designed to fly downwind; sailing upwind, especially in strong headwinds and big seas, is a nightmare not to be contemplated and avoided at all costs.

Brad van Liew, the current Class 2 leader on Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America, has a different strategy. "I am not that interested in shaving miles off my course by going south," Brad said in a satellite interview. "There is a range of wind conditions that my boats really likes, and I can average quite a few knots faster if I can find those conditions. I would rather seek out optimum wind than strive to sail a shorter distance, just for the sake of it."

The real challenge will be on Leg 4 when the yachts have to go south. Cape Horn lies below 56 degrees south, and the only way to get around it is to venture at least that far into the Southern Ocean. It's going to be interesting to see how things play out as this leg develops.

Brian Hancock/ISAF Secretariat
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