This fifth stage of Clipper 2002, the Ko Olina Cup Race, has so far revealed some of the Pacific's subtle secrets and intrigues but there is much more to come.
Wind patterns have had the greatest influence on the boats, but factors such as the current can also add 50 miles or more to the daily run.
Clipper 2002 has seen the yachts break north earlier than in previous races. Race Director, Colin de Mowbray, explains why: "Firstly the wind pattern seems most unsettled and the large area of strong NE wind has superimposed itself on what should be the orderly text book division of the weather. There is also the Hong Kong factor, whereby one boat goes early and seems to be doing well, so the others get nervous and follow."
In the 2000 race, the fleet crossed the convergence zone about 4-500 miles further west and in the first two Clipper races the crossings were generally even further west. This race is two weeks later and conditions are certainly different.
Although some boats, such as New York Clipper, will complain that they have had a bad deal in crossing the ITCZ, the reality is that they have all got away with it remarkably lightly. For interest, the last race saw Matt Baker and his Plymouth Clipper crew in 6th place after crossing the ITCZ, before becoming clear race winners into Hawaii. So the game is still wide open!!
Today's positions show that the fleet are remarkably equal as they are spread out over a 200-mile wide front. Jersey Clipper remains the leader but is the southerly boat. Has Simon Rowell got this right as he nervously looks to the boats to the NE, knowing that they are screaming along in conditions that may carry a better guarantee?
London Clipper has put in a startling run in the centre of the pack but only 6 miles separate them from Bristol and Liverpool. Adam Kyffin and his Liverpudlian crew have quietly been making a number of consistent runs that have brought them right back into contention. Meanwhile Hong Kong Clipper has continued its charge in the north and again had the top run taking them up to fifth place. Their only disappointment will be that the others have moved north without too much pain. Their hand is not yet fully played though and we expect them to continue to move up.
Cape Town and Glasgow are also now making good progress and are both well in contention. Sam Fuller and New York Clipper probably deserve today's sympathy vote after a slower crossing of the ITCZ than the others, but if this is a minor set back it is one they will quickly shake off. And what lies ahead? The strong NE winds look set to give them some fast sailing for the next few days and will raise hopes of an early finish, but read on... The next chapter will then open up and they will enter the fickle and unpredictable conditions on the approaches to the Hawaiian Islands. The order will then be turned on its head in time for the final run in where we have a new twist on the previous route…
With the finish at Ko Olina, on the SW corner of Oahu, we have removed the requirement to round the islands of Maui and Molokai and the race yachts can pass between the islands on their dash to the line. These final few miles can cause some big upsets in the order and the choice of route through the islands will make the finish even more exciting!
LATEST POSITIONS, 20/10/03, 0400 GMT