As the four Class one Skippers start to come out of the huge storm that has battered them for the past three days things are settling down and becoming a tactical test as the fleet approaches the Canaries.
Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group/Armor lux holds a considerable lead of 144nm over Emma Richards on Pindar and 198nm over Thierry Dubois on Solidaires, but there is a long way to go yet. These three sailors, along with Graham Dalton on Hexagon, have survived the great storm and now their mode of racing will change from survival sailing to tactical racing.
Solidaires has come out of the gale force conditions relatively unscathed, except for some small rudder damage. Physically wrecked, overtired and undernourished, skipper Thierry Dubois is just relieved to be through the other end of the storm and is waiting for calmer weather to make a full inspection of the boat. "One week at sea - so in order to celebrate I changed my clothes!. At last! It was entirely necessary as you can well imagine the kind of smells, humidity and irritations that had festered after all that time… so a quick wash, and airing of my feet is a great pleasure. It doesn't take much! The next thing on the agenda: a shower in the tropical rain, which is coming. Tomorrow I'll pass the Canary Islands."
With the physically tough part of Leg 2 behind them the yachts are entering the trade winds, and for the next week they should have fair skies above and a warm wind at their backs. Solidaires is the easternmost yacht, and if the wind is stronger near the coast then Thierry Dubois may well scoot into the lead. There is plenty of precedent for this. If the wind is stronger to the west then Stamm will have an advantage. Emma Richards and Graham Dalton, sailing up the middle, will likely remain in the same position, which, I guess, is exactly what Emma has in mind. There will be other opportunities for her to attack Bobst Group/Armor lux. Heading to the west and falling in behind Bernard will not be a good option for her.
There are also some obstacles ahead. Directly in the path of Pindar and Hexagon is the picturesque island of Madeira, but the island group to the south of Madeira will offer the real tactical challenge. The Canaries are high islands and the wind funnels between the tall peaks on Tenerife and Gran Canaria. If you time it right you can get a fantastic boost by sailing between the two islands; if you time it wrong you could just as easily find yourself becalmed in the lee of one of the tall peaks. The problem is that it's a bit of a roll of the dice as to which tactic will make you a winner. The miles ahead of these skippers are like a giant board game. The yachts are the pieces and the weather systems are the obstacles. The sailor that reads the conditions the best will win the race to the Southern Hemisphere.
Italian skipper Simone Bianchetti managed to steer his dismasted Open 60 Tiscali into a sheltered Spanish fishing port called Carino, 40 miles North East of his intended location this morning after the Southerly winds would not allow him to head directly to La Coruna. Apart from the carbon fibre mast and all the internal mechanical and electrical equipment, the sails, the complete rigging and some stanchions got lost at sea. In the coming hours, a detailed analysis on the integrity of the hull will be carried out as it could have been damaged by blows from the broken part of the mast hanging over the side of the boat. The Tiscali shore team is now involved in an accurate assessment of the damage and of the timing to try and get the boat back into racing form as soon as possible. Every skipper in the fleet has sent Simone a message wishing for him to return to the race.
While the leading Open 60's are hurtling south, the rest of the fleet remains tied to the dock in Bayona, Spain. We can only imagine how frustrating it must be for the skippers to sit in port watching the clock tick knowing that time spent here is time not spent in Cape Town preparing for the Southern Ocean legs. Writing is one therapy practised frequently by the eloquent Class 2 competitors. John Dennis on Bayer Ascensia, Derek Hatfield on Spirit of Canada, and Alan Paris on BTC Velocity all took time to send lengthy reports that describe their frustration and emotions, and give them a chance to thank all their supporters who have kept them motivated throughout all of this by sending encouraging emails.
Damage can also happen on land as at 0500hrs in the height of the maelstrom with 50 knots of wind and thunder and lightning all around, BTC Velocity's mast became entangled with another yacht, the only solution was to remove the forestay in the end. Alan Paris was relieved that his Carbon fibre mast had only suffered superficial scratches.
Canadian Open 40 skipper Derek Hatfield gets the last word: "All of us here have been watching the weather closely to try and determine when we will be able to leave for Cape Town. Currently we are looking to leave on Tuesday morning. We all feel that the strong southerly winds will be more westerly by then and we will be able to get away from the dock safely. Take care and talk to you soon, hopefully from the water."
Positions at 1400 UTC 21st October 2002
All Class Two Yachts, and Ocean Planet are currently in Port in Spain
||Bobst Group-Armor Lux