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30 August 2002, 10:04 am
Stormy Night
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Challenge Transat

They heard the North Atlantic could be a cruel place. The six Challenge Transat teams are getting their first taste of that cruelty today. BP Explorer was the first to report gale force winds.

"We are in quite a little storm," reported Janet Pilkington reporting in via satellite phone from aboard BP. "Winds are 30 knots and up on deck it's very wet. It's just amazing."

Minutes later Spirit of Hong Kong reported similar conditions. The yacht's satellite reception was too weak to record but the yacht reported 25-knot winds and rough seas.

BG continued to hold onto her slim lead over Vail Williams at this writing. Skipper John Burfitt said that his crew has now crossed the line that divides sailors from landlubbers.

"This is often a low point for people unused to ocean sailing," said JB. "The broken sleep patterns, the lack of sleep from motion and noise, the aching muscles from working the boat all combine to make for some very tired people I like this stage of a voyage because as people struggle with sleep deprivation and exhaustion. The veneers we hide behind in everyday life vanish, baring our true characters."

Crews face two sets of challenges. First, they must adjust to a hard and stressful work schedule with less sleep. And, second, the rigors that go with being in a competitive event. Simply getting through their watch is not enough, they must also compete.

Aboard BP Explorer skipper Alex Johnson reports a similar bonding process underway.

"As we are at the start of our fourth day and getting to know each others pheromones intimately!" Johnson wrote in his Daily Log. "By now, most of us have developed sea legs and are well adjusted to the rhythm of the watches".

On top of those adjustments the crews must also contend with the non-stop pounding their yachts take. Things break and, like a space shuttle mission, there's no calling out for a repairman. The crews have to fix what breaks or figure out how to do without it. The list of problems remains small, but grows with time. It began with Logica's watermaker, which refuses to work off the batteries. Then today BP's generator began cutting out whenever a load was applied to it.

Some problems are easier to solve than others. Aboard TeamSpirIT skipper Mark Taylor could not figure out why he could not seem to get the kind of speed he knew he should be getting out his yacht. The problem turned out to be a long piece of rope trying to hitch a ride to Boston. "Finally got the rope cleared from keel and rudder," said skipper Mark Taylor. "The boat seemed very sluggish all day".

Taylor was happy to get the rope clear before the expected storm hit. He could now rest assured that TeamSpirIT would squeeze all the benefit possible out of the high winds just ahead. But, he said, the prospect of their first storm at sea had its effect on the crew.

"Everyone is quiet with anticipation that we are going to be hit by some wind later today as the new low forms and the fronts pass through us," Taylor said. "For me it will be a relief we are currently going backwards on the current at about 2 knots."

But once the storm finally hit the fleet, adrenalin quickly overwhelmed any qualms. Writing in his log as gale winds blew up on deck, BG Group skipper, John Burfitt noted, "As I write this there is laughter on deck, people are learning about themselves and each other and having a good time doing it."

According to Commanders' Weather the winds will subside tonight but even rougher weather and seas await the fleet this weekend.

Stephen Pizzo/News Editor
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