The main topic of conversation among the Around Alone skippers is one about ice. Not ice for cocktails, but hard, cold, deadly ice in the water, perhaps in the path of one of them as they streak across the Southern Ocean.
It is, as Bernard Stamm quite rightly pointed out, a game of Russian Roulette. It's a high stakes blast through the cold south pacific darkness as the boats fly along at speeds in excess of 20 knots blind to the dangers that lie ahead. Onboard radar's can pick up the big bergs; nothing can pick up the growlers or bergy bits that lurk just below the surface. The only rule of thumb is to always pass to windward of an iceberg. Duck to leeward and you stand a better than average chance of hitting a growler that has broken off the main berg.
The talk of ice began when the mega-catamaran Geronimo sighted a berg and growlers two days ago. Geronimo was travelling on the same route as the Around Alone fleet and sent the warning as a matter of good seamanship. Last night Graham Dalton aboard Hexagon reported to Race Opps that he thought he could see a large iceberg on his radar. It was night so he did not have a visual, but it was enough of a blimp to convince the skipper that he was in iceberg territory. Ice was on the minds of two skippers when they sent in their daily reports. First, Emma Richard discussed the numerous icebergs she had seen a year ago in the same waters, and Tim Kent sent his rationale for not diving too far south. Here is Emma report. "I have to admit I was disappointed when our first attempt at the Jules Verne Trophy in 98, to have not to see any icebergs. And then the first one I saw a year ago on the Volvo race, well it was just amazing, the way the light shone off it - quite mesmerizing. Then the second a little more daunting and then the growlers close by quite terrifying when you think too hard about it and after three days of continuous bergs I would have been glad never to see one again in my life except in pictures!! So I have seen my fair share and I wouldn't want to go through that again especially on my own. I will gladly sail a few extra miles, I've always liked the scenic route!! Emma was part of Tracy Edwards crew when they made an attempt on the Jules Verne Trophy aboard the mega-catamaran Royal Sun and Alliance. She was also crew on board Amer Sports One a year ago during the Volvo Ocean Race.
For Tim Kent on Everest Horizontal this is all new territory. He has not been this way before. Not unfamiliar with frozen water (he lives on the Great Lakes after all) it is still daunting for Tim to be sailing his Open 50 through water strewn with hidden dangers. It makes it all the more difficult to be the father of two small children. "It would be SO easy to ease sheets and head farther south right now," Tim wrote. "The world is skinnier down south, making the trip faster. That's the route that the leading 60s are taking right now, and they are flying. But I think that heading south with definite reports of ice would be irresponsible of me. First of all, it would break a promise that I made to Whitney and Alison to stay safe all the time. Second, it would endanger my boat and myself, which would fly in the face of Goal #1 - to Finish the Race. Third, if I did hit ice badly enough to cripple my boat, I would then have to endanger another competitor to come and rescue me. Overall not a good idea, so I am hard on the wind, trying to stay north."
While Emma and Tim sail a reasonably conservative course, to their south the Open 60s are hurtling across the Southern Ocean. Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group Armor lux has come north just the slightest (he is still at 52 degrees south) in an attempt to avoid most of the ice, and in doing so he has consolidated his lead on Thierry Dubois aboard Solidaires. At the last poll Bobst Group Armor lux was 67 miles ahead of Solidaires sailing at an average speed of just under fifteen knots. Stamm, Dubois and Simone Bianchetti on Tiscali are all on the same latitude while Graham Dalton on Hexagon, Bruce Schwab on Ocean Planet and Emma Richards on Pindar are further to the north.
At the front of Class 2 Brad van Liew on Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America is also sailing a relatively conservative course. He is directly behind Emma Richards, possibly waiting for Emma to call with news of ice. Four years ago Brad experienced a terrifying storm on this leg and van Liew admits to being a little gun shy as he sails south. Since he has a handy lead over the rest of his class, and since his stated goal is to make the finish in one piece, one can only conclude that Brad is sailing a great leg. At the back of the pack Derek Hatfield on Spirit of Canada is continuing to grind down his opposition, but remains a distant 850 miles behind the leader.