After a relaxing few days in the Galapagos Islands, the tension now mounts as skippers and crews gear up for the start of the Ko Olina Cup Race, the fifth stage of the Clipper 2002 series later today.
At just over 4,000 miles this is a long stretch, both in distance and perception. By the time the fleet reach the Ko Olina Resort and Marina in Hawaii in just over 3 weeks time, the Clipper crews will have crossed half the Pacific. To get an idea of the relative scale of this vast ocean, take a globe and position it so that the Hawaiian Islands are in the middle. Other than a thin strip of land on either side and a few other diminutive dots of land, everything facing you will be blue!
Tactically, the deciding factor on this race will be how the teams approach the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). As its name implies, this is the area where the southern hemisphere southeasterly trade winds meet the northern hemisphere northeasterly trade winds and is characterised by a broad horizontal band of changeable winds, calms and squalls with associated heavy rain. Its position and intensity varies, but at this time of year tends to drift either side of 5 degrees north around most of the globe. It also expands and contracts in width.
The aim is always to spend as little time in the belt as possible, so the prudent navigator will aim to cross it at right angles rather than diagonally. Therefore rather than sailing a straight line between the two island groups, the yachts will tend to either head west then north, or north then west. With the potential for the Clipper 2002 fleet to spread out far more dramatically than they have in previous races, this also results in the boats slowing down at different stages. A team that decides to go north early will seem to be doing incredibly badly, hardly closing the finish line and slowing in the ITCZ, but once through they will have a clear run whilst the southern flank have still to go through it.
On the whole the Clipper fleet should experience good steady winds and a fast passage, and they should also be helped by around a knot and a half of favourable current. Expect some exciting diary reports from the crews as they surf at high speeds through the rolling pacific swells… visit