Sailing around the bottom of the world where the night is as dark as the inside of your pocket, and the waves and winds wreak full force upon the eleven who have chosen to race solo through this oceanic desert.
Temperatures recorded by Italian skipper Simone Bianchetti got to -5 degrees Centigrade last night on Tiscali sailing at latitude 52°S, where he and British skipper Emma Richards on Pindar have intersected and are now locking together in battle just 28 miles apart. Bianchetti has moved up to 4th place, although he reported in that on Christmas Day the boat took two knockdowns with the mast at 90 degrees, in winds gusting 50 knots. "Now I'm sailing at 13 knots with 20 knots of wind and gusts of 30. I'm now around 280 miles from the antarctic ice but yesterday I crossed a growler."
Emma remarked that the winds are now strengthening to 25-30 knots, more than predicted, as the low tracks South Eastward towards them from the Kerguelens. She is enduring a "nerve wracking 24hrs" pushing her Southerly option but also monitoring a temperamental autopilot. "Yesterday the boat gybed while I was down the forehatch moving sails. I scrambled back to the cockpit as quick as its possible to climb out of a hatch at a 45deg angle under pressure! By the time I got back, only a matter of seconds, a combination of a big wave, the pilot fighting to get back to a similar course it was meant to be steering then me pulling the tilller, gybed us back - no apparent damage, but its so bad for the rig, you would cringe how much pressure we put them under!!"
Class 1 leader Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group-Armor Lux has simply lifted off, and with his boatspeed ticking over at around 15 knots, this Swiss speedster is now 280 miles ahead of nearest rival Thierry Dubois on Solidaires and on the same latitude as Tasmania but 1,700nm to the West. It will be hard to match the leader's blistering pace but Hexagon, Ocean Planet, Tiscali & Pindar are all starting to converge slowly towards the virtual gateway north of Latitude 46S between Longitudes 105 and 120E.
Class 2 are having a rollercoaster time, as up at the front leader Brad van Liew on Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America slowed overnight to a mere 2 - 3 knots as he climbs above the incoming low, bringing with it freshening North to Northwesterly winds. His nearest competitors Everest Horizontal, Spirit of Canada & Spirit of yukoh have all been zig-zagging through the transition zone of variable winds over the Kerguelens, their speeds jumping around. Over last night the Open 40 skippered by Canadian Derek Hatfield passed into 2nd place: "We have been hard upwind for a day now and the weather files tell us it will be another 36 hours of upwind work The boat is currently banging and crashing over the waves, making life inside barely tolerable. Everything seems bigger and to take longer here in the Southern Ocean."
Alan Paris on BTC Velocity learned something about the Southern Ocean today: that the weather files are always conflicting and unreliable, despite the money and time spent downloading different files -"Perhaps I should combine the education I am getting with weather data reliability and the frustrating and costly process of getting wrong weather info and turn off the computer and sail in a straight line to Tauranga ?? What do you think ?? Probably not, we all crave information even if it's not always right !!"
As the low system tracks Southwest and the wind angle shifts gradually to the North North West, the back markers will pick up speed before the front runners and should bring the fleet closer together for an exciting second half of the leg from Cape Town to Tauranga in New Zealand.