Oh what night it was! A strong low swept up behind the fleet yesterday night and it was as though someone had stomped the accelerator peddle to the floor and locked it in place.
In conditions so dark BG Skipper John Burfitt described as "darker than the inside of a cow,"
the boats charged toward and finally around Waypoint Alpha.
"BG group charged into the darkness propelled by an imprudent amount of sail straining in 35 to 40 knot winds (a full gale), "
Burfitt reported the morning after. "Our wake and the breaking waves around us sparkling and glowing with bio-luminescence."
If this were a cruising fleet the boats would have reefed in their sails, battened down the hatches and gone below to wait out the blow. But, in ocean racing conditions like this are tempting invitations to pour on the canvas and break away from nearby competitors. But, there are risks. Serious risks.
"This was the scene as the wind veered, demanding a gybe
, Burfitt reported. "I knew helming would become increasingly difficult as the mainsail was pulled in and one mistake could break gear, injure someone or do both. Turning the boat the other way, tacking around, was not an option, with the amount of sail set the boat would lay on her side before she got into the wind. Reducing sail first would make it safer but cost time, are we good enough to get away with the gybe? I asked myself. A few minutes later everything was leaning the other way and a relieved skipper handed the wheel over to a crew member, while thanking his mate for some excellent deck work."
The rough conditions were also tough on crews, particularly aboard Vail Williams. Skipper David Melville reported that the mixture of eggs, diesel and rough conditions produced big problems below decks.
"This morning Vail Williams smells of boiled eggs, diesel and vomit."
Melville reported. "The chain of events was gale overnight leading to crew exertion and a desire for eggs. Some muppet overfilled the fuel day tank leading to fuel overspill into breathers. Fumes then recirculated down below. The chef was unable to cope with strain of cooking eggs and aforementioned diesel decided to projectile vomit around the saloon. We are hard pressed over in a gale - anybody that has come down below in one of these boats in harbour and gone 'ooh they are comfy…. should be here now!"
But, at least no additional gear damage was reported. Early blows had cost TeamSpirIT its spinnaker and Spirit of Hong Kong broke a spinnaker pole. But, as the crews seem to be learning fast how to race these giant yachts in downwind conditions because the latest blow appears to have left the yachts unscathed.
A Race milestone was also reached this morning as the leading yachts rounded Waypoint Alpha. It is the only waypoint that was set between them and home. The yachts are now free to sail whatever course home they believe will get them there fastest.
During the night's storm Vail Williams was able to add three miles to its lead over second place Logica, which is now six miles behind the leader. BG Group also lost three miles on the leader putting the team 39 miles back putting them in a distant third. But, wounded TeamSpirIT managed to gain five miles during the same period.
With their torn spinnaker is still under repair, TeamSpirIT actually benefited from last night's strong winds. Since none of the other boats dared use their spinnaker in such winds, TeamSpirIT was, at least as long as the gale blew, no longer at a competitive disadvantage.
Skipper Mark Taylor said yesterday that the hoped to be able to hoist his repaired spinnaker by sometime today. It will not be a minute too soon either. Commander's Weather predicts that winds will drop today and stay light at about 10 knots through the weekend. If so these were precisely the conditions in which a racing yacht would hoist its largest spinnaker. If TeamSpirIT cannot yet do so, or if they do and the repairs fail to hold, the team risks falling seriously behind.
Spirit of Hong Kong continues in fifth place, losing an additional six miles. The team is now 82 miles behind the leader.
BP Explorer continues to own last place. Though the team did gain two miles they are still a daunting 109 miles off the lead.
Positions this morning
||N 45° 28' 50"
||W 42° 45' 38"
||N 45° 14' 2"
||W 42° 54' 31"
||N 44° 5' 29"
||W 42° 35' 31"
||N 44° 16' 26"
||W 43° 45' 55"
|Spirit of Hong Kong
||N 43° 23' 36"
||W 43° 18' 19"
||N 43° 42' 19"
||W 45° 11' 58"