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12 February 2003, 01:48 pm
Fleet Crosses the Dateline
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Around Alone - Leg Four
Tauranga (NZL) - Salvador (BRA)

The Around Alone skippers can be forgiven for having that Déjà vu all over again feeling when they got up this morning. If today seemed a lot like yesterday, it's because it was! Sort of.
You see the fleet has crossed the International Date Line and instead of today being today, it's yesterday. Tomorrow will still be tomorrow and both days will count towards the total for the leg, but instead of being in a time zone way ahead of the US and Europe, the boats are now in a time zone way behind. With that in mind I am not sure if I am supposed to write two reports for today, or half a report. Let's just say that there is a lot to report and get on with it.

First of all Derek Hatfield on Spirit of Canada is still heading towards Napier on the north island of New Zealand. It's unclear whether he will actually have to stop or not, but chances are he will be forced to pull in to repair his electrical problems, and Napier seems to be the best place to do this. Derek reported that each time he shut his engine down after charging, he got a spike in power of up to 17 volts which he believes has fried all of his onboard electronics. Either the electronics are dead, or the wiring in the boat is dead and he can't check the electronics, but either way it's not good. Derek suspects that an internal short in the new batteries which he installed in New Zealand caused the problem and as a result his GPS, autopilots and computers are not working. Spirit of Canada relies entirely on electronics, specifically those that run the autopilots without which Derek can forget sailing to Salvador. It will be impossible to hand steer all the way. Fortunately the satellite phone is still working and Derek has been making calls to his shore team and electronic experts in an attempt to see if they can come up with a solution that he can remedy on board. A stop will be costly; race rules impose a mandatory 48-hour penalty for each stop, and with that added to the time it takes to sail back to land, Spirit of Canada is in deep trouble for this leg. At least in terms of a podium finish.

Fellow Class 2 competitor Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal summed up the situation on behalf of the rest of the fleet. "Derek's boat is one of the best sorted in the fleet," he wrote. "More impressively, Derek has proven himself to be a tough, smart sailor, and the competition between Spirit of Canada and Everest Horizontal has been one of the best stories of the race. Derek and I have gotten to be friends on shore, and I wish him all the best as he deals with this incredibly heartbreaking setback." We all do.

While Hatfield heads for Napier, the rest of the fleet is making good time sailing in ideal conditions. The leaders are just north of the Chatham Islands sailing at 10 knots with a steady 15 to 20 knots from behind. It's a perfectly pleasant way to ease south and the reason for the fair winds is a huge area of high pressure that is situated in the South Pacific. The yachts are sandwiched between the high and a low pressure system that is tracking along south of New Zealand. For the next few days they can expect the conditions to remain the same, with possibly a small increase in wind as the gradient between the systems becomes more steep. There is a flip side to the rosy weather picture. Some weather models show the high increasing in size and engulfing the fleet bringing with it light winds. Brad van Liew on board Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America suspects this might be the case. "A high is on its way, which will park the fleet for a while but better that than a big storm I suppose," he wrote. Always one to look on the bright side Brad has planned to sail a conservative leg to Brazil. "My strategy this leg is based on a priority of getting safely to Brazil, so a bit of a push in the mild weather for the first couple days has made an early lead possible. This will allow me to take it easy in the deep Southern Ocean and hopefully stay north of any ice fields. For now though I just wish the warm barefoot reaching conditions could last all the way to The Horn. I'll put it in my order for the day but I doubt it will be provided."

The racing is intense as the lead changes between Bobst Group Armor lux and Solidaires with Bruce Schwab on Ocean Planet nipping at their heels. The new kid on the block Bruce has enjoyed every moment of this leg so far. "It has been a beautiful day," he wrote. "Sunny, moderate wind, smooth and fast sailing. Just as nice as sailing to Hawaii, although our current destination, Cape Horn, definitely won't have bikini weather. Add to that it's not every day that you get to see Thierry Dubois, Mini-Transat winner and currently second in the Around Alone....behind you! He slowly worked his way in front of me a couple hours after the shot, forcing me to change back to our big "Borland" genniker. I might be gaining back now, time will tell. Bernard on Bobst Group is also within sight to windward and slightly ahead."

What fun! Keep on keeping on Bruce - we are enjoying having you nip at the heels of the big guys.
Brian Hancock/ISAF News Editor
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