The four leading Class 1 boats are starting to feel the first fringes of the storm and are preparing for the worst. Until now the approaching weather has just been a series of closely packed isobars on a weather map.
Leading the fleet by 70 miles is Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group/Armor Lux. This morning Bernard called in to his shore support to say that he was North of the Azores experiencing 50 knots of wind and building seas, and was expecting up to 70 knots before day's end. He is confident of his position to the West of the fleet right now: "I am in exactly the right position, waiting for this front to pass through, as behind lies a Northwesterly wind to propel me Eastwards at full speed downwind!"
To the east of Stamm, Thierry Dubois on Solidaires, Emma Richards on Pindar and Graham Dalton on Hexagon are all preparing themselves for the onslaught. Dubois commented: "The worst is to come, as if I have managed to cross the first two storms on the right side (with Northerly winds) it will be impossible to do this again with what's to come: this one is so big, it will bar the whole route, so we are going to have to fight it just to get South."
Emma Richards, holding 3rd place still, feels like she is preparing her boat Pindar for battle: "I have a solid boat which I have spent all day preparing for this weather, everything is lashed down, stacked, fixed since the last storm. I have spent the day checking everything - including the backup pilot, backup compass for the back up pilot, I ran them all for a couple of hours today, apart from checking them just to be extra sure of the procedure of changing over under pressure. I have made a mass of pasta in case it is too hard to even make cous cous (which is only boiling a kettle anyway!) topped up fuel so I don't need to in bad weather, made water for a week. I have had lots of sleep and still have a good few hours before it hits hard. I know this storm will be severe, I am expecting that."
The only Class 1 boat that has decided to stop is Bruce Schwab on Ocean Planet. Bruce was late leaving Torbay after having replaced his broken boom, and because of it he has been sailing with the Class 2 boats. It's that part of the fleet that's expected to get the brunt of the storm, and so Bruce made a difficult, yet prudent decision to seek shelter. In an email to Race Opps this morning Bruce explained his decision. "It is more important for me to FINISH the Around Alone than attempt to win it first time out. There is a lot to learn, and a lot of miles to sail before I see Newport, RI, again. I will find the right time to show what this boat can do before then, when we are good and ready." There is one Class 1 boat still behind him, as Tiscali remains in Brest, whilst Italian skipper Simone Bianchetti tests the three new autpilot systems installed the day before.
Early this morning the first Class 2 yacht Bayer Ascensia tied up in La Coruna on the north coast of Spain. Further to the South American skipper Brad van Liew on Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America sailed into Bayona, Spain in order to swiftly repair his 3rd reefing system. Other skippers about to reach port are Bermudan Alan Paris on BTC Velocity, Japanese skipper Kojiro Shiraishi on Spirit of yukoh. Canadian skipper Derek Hatfield on Spirit of Canada and American Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal are also still making tracks towards land.
There is a difference between stopping in La Coruna and Bayonne. It has to do with leaving port once the storm has passed. John Dennis might experience some difficulty getting out of La Coruna if the wind is from a westerly quadrant. He will need to sail to the west to clear Cape Finisterre, a dominant headland that lies between La Coruna and Portugal, and unless the wind has moderated he will have difficulty doing so. The other boats already south of Cape Finisterre will have more options, and will be able to leave as soon as the wind moderates. In any event, it is a fast moving system that should release all the boats by the end of the weekend. We will continue to keep you updated as each yacht makes it safely into port, as well as how those still at sea are faring.