The following is a log from Class 1 leader Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group/Armor Lux. Stamm is a consumate professional and rarely gives much insight into how he races his boat.
He is aware that his fellow competitors will read what he writes, and if at all possible, use it against him. While Bernard deals with the light and frustrating winds of the doldrums, he took the time to send the email kindly forwarded. Here is his log:
"When we set out from Torbay, the forecast was for muggy, lifeless weather, becoming very calm, before the flotilla would come across a first low-pressure area. Before leaving, I had established the position of this depression, then the premises of another one, which was going to be much tougher. For the first one, if I managed to head off from its northerly tip and go round it, I could do so with favourable winds. And that worked out fine. The second low-pressure area, however, was right in our way, because of its size, between two and three thousand kilometres across. There was no way around it, so we just had to face up to it, and make the best of the conditions on offer. Always with the aim of sailing as little as possible close-hauled. There was the possibility of heading into the centre of the depression and coming out of it in the south-western quarter, where the wind would already have backed west nor'westerly. An advantage being that close to the centre of the low-pressure area, there is less wind, but when you are entering and leaving the depression, you get the full force of the storm. The other huge advantage would be that all the longitudinal degrees heading west to Cape Verde would already be done, and I would pick up the trade winds with less tailwind than my rivals, so that was an option to consider. However, between theory and practice, there is an enormous difference, and going through all that is certainly going to stick with me.
I didn't have any major disasters, if you don't count the fact that at the height of the storm, the solent, which was wound up on the roller, began to unroll and balloon upwards. The sail could only unroll at the top, while at the bottom, where the sheets are attached, there was the opposite effect, and it just pulled itself tighter. Without immediate action, there was the risk of everything breaking. At a certain point, there would be a greater area of sail out than is possible in 70 knots of wind, and you risk losing the mast with all the strain and shocks. So I had to head off, running free, with the wind behind me, then roll up, unroll and roll up again several times in a row, so that the tension was balanced and it could be wound up evenly. At that point in time, I was heading off towards Iceland with a 70-knot tailwind, and you end up speeding along. It was in my interest to get things moving quickly. I had to go through the centre of the low-pressure area, head towards Cape Verde, taking advantage of the strong winds in the depression and my position further west to extend my lead over the enemy.
Next, I had to get in the right place to get through the Doldrums. Statistically, the Doldrums are narrowest at around 26° West. The further west you go, the greater the chance of getting through without too many problems, but you're not in such a good position to pick up the trade winds in the South. You have to find a satisfactory compromise. In a sailing race, luck and chance don't have a big role to play. Everything can be explained, analysed and more or less accurately predicted. Except here. Here, things always go wrong. The aim always being to come off less badly than your opponents. For the moment, it's for me rather that things are going badly, as I can see my lead narrowing, and I've been stuck here without any wind for at least twelve hours, and the preceding hours weren't much better either. But the others are going to have to go through it too. The problem is that the situation is ever changing, and they may all slip through together. So everything we've achieved up to now would have to be done all over again.
A short description of the area? The sea is flat calm. There's just a little bit of chop left, like in the Med after a short squall. (I should have chosen another example, as I'm never quite sure if I'm expressing things correctly). The weather is fine with a sky full of different sorts of cloud. Most of them are cumuli, those clouds marking variable weather, which look like little sheep in the sky. Generally speaking, those cumuli change into cumulo-nimbus clouds, that's to say they rapidly get much bigger, rise up and take on a thundery character. So the bottom of the cloud is very low and very dark, and the rain that comes out of it seems to join up with the sea. It can stretch out over half of the horizon. That's what it looks like from the outside. When you're underneath one of them, it rains and blows so much that apart from the temperature, it's more like the North Sea in November. Very often, when the thunderstorm shows itself, it's so close to you that you can smell the sulphur. With all of that, you still have to try to get a move on and use the winds, which are variable in strength and direction. It's in such places that you need to do the most work to make the least headway, but if you do nothing, you don't make any progress at all. We'll be seeing the results of the Northern hemisphere stretch in a few days."
Meanwhile, the wind has filled in for the Class 2 yachts, and all except John Dennis on Bayer Ascensia are enjoying ideal sailing with the wind from behind and clear skies above. They have passed the latitude of Gibraltar and are now off the African coast making good speed. The yachts are not completely out of the woods yet. There is some uncertain weather ahead and the next 48 hours could see a bit of a shake-up, but once past this next area they should be well into the trades and flying south. At that point it's a case of the rich getting richer as the leading yachts find the new wind first.
It will be interesting to see if Brad van Liew on Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America can maintain his lead on the fleet. Brad has consolidated with the rest of his class, giving up his position to the west, and is sailing a smart race. He is between his competition and the next weather pattern, and as any inshore sailor will tell you, that's the right tactical move to make. Brads only concern might be Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal. Tim is sailing well to the east of the fleet. By being that close to land Everest Horizontal could well get its own private wind as the continent of Africa generates its own weather, but at some point Tim is also going to have to make some westing. It never pays to be that far east as you get further south. It will be interesting to see how the two strategies play out.
Positions at 0600 GMT, 28/10/2002
||Bobst Group-Armor Lux
||Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America
||Spirit of Canada
||Spirit of yukoh