They rocketed past the Mauritius turning mark with a strong wind up their transom, they skirted the Cargados shoals and the Nazareth bank and at the 0700 hours GMT poll on Wednesday morning they were approaching the shallow waters of the Saya de Malha bank. In a couple of hours they will be clear of all shoal water and on a steady course for the Gulf of Oman.
'It wasn't too bad really,' BULLIMORE said in a satellite phone call. 'The wind was gusting around 40 knots, but it was from behind and Daedalus likes that point of sail. We were well prepared for the weather and in fact really enjoyed the sailing. The following winds gave us a nice push north and we are rapidly closing the gap on Doha 2006. It's a pity that this race is not any longer. We might just catch them yet.'
Like most good cat and mouse games, you run out of runway sooner or later and while it is true that Daedalus has been closing in on the larger rival at the rate of well over 200 miles a day, they would need another ten days of the same to draw even. If Doha 2006 is still racing in ten days there will probably be a mutiny on board. At the same 0700 poll Doha 2006 was 566 miles from the finish; they would have to average around two knots for the rest of the race to allow Daedalus the opportunity to grab the big prize.
The mood on board Doha 2006 is one of amused resignation. Had they been able to stay in good winds they would long since have crossed the finish line, but around-the-world racing is made up of a lot of 'what if's'. There is one big 'what if' dangling in the back of every crewmembers mind and that is, 'what if Cheyenne and Geronimo had still been racing'.
The comfortable lead enjoyed by Doha 2006 has allowed the crew time to sit and ponder their future. Had there been two other boats breathing down their necks it would have been an entirely different matter. Paul LARSEN (AUS), once again in his inimitable style, hit the nail squarely on the head when he pondered that very 'what if' in his daily log. 'Of course it could have all been completely different had the other two big boats remained in the race,' he wrote. 'It was one of my questions to various crew members as I conducted individual video interviews today, 'What do you think would be happening now if Cheyenne and Geronimo were still in the race?' Everyone interviewed agreed that this finish, in fact this whole Indian Ocean, would have turned into an absolute pressure cooker considering what we have seen on our climb back north. The weather routers struggle to predict what is coming and we end up sailing reactively to whatever we get. We've had to deal with cyclones, double doldrums, squalls, lengthy park-ups and a lot of light, fickle stuff. Throw $1,000,000 dollars prize purse into the big picture of the end of a 60-odd day circumnavigation with leads growing and evaporating at maxi-cat rates, and there is little doubt that what could have been... could have been pretty tense. I'm sure that this is the stretch that the big trimaran Geronimo was itching for.'
It's the nature of long distance ocean racing that there is some attrition in the fleet, but it is certainly a shame that Geronimo and Cheyenne are not still in contention. Before Cheyenne was dismasted there were around 600 miles astern of Doha 2006; about a day's run. It is interesting to note that the high pressure system that forced Doha 2006 to give the Cape of Good Hope a wide berth, would probably have allowed Cheyenne to cut the corner. That system forced Doha 2006 to sail almost a 1,000 extra miles.
Then as they sailed north Tropical Cyclone Hennie presented a complicated tactical challenge. THOMPSON and his team took the only smart option; they took the conservative, longer route. No point in breaking the boat when your closest rival is 3,000 miles astern. Had Cheyenne been breathing down their necks, or transoms if you will, the game would have been completely different.
Geronimo, on the other hand, would have loved the light stuff. A trimaran has much less wetted surface than a catamaran in light winds. For the cat, both hulls are firmly glued to the water until there is sufficient breeze to fly-a-hull. The trimaran has only the main hull and a much smaller leeward float in the water, and despite being heavier than Doha 2006 most pundits agree that the trimaran would have had a distinct advantage in the light conditions. Since turning north out of the Southern Ocean there has been plenty of light winds; plenty of opportunity for Olivier DE KERSAUSON (FRA) and his crew to take the lead - 'What if…..?'
At the 0700 poll Doha 2006 was sailing at 11.6 knots; their best boat speed in a quite a while. If they can keep it up they are two days from the finish. They may get more wind as they approach the narrow part of the Strait of Hormuz but the odds are good that any wind they get will be from the north funneling down the Strait. Neither THOMPSON or his navigator Will OXLEY (AUS) are putting any money on an arrival time. It is, however, safe to say that this will be their last Wednesday racing the Oryx Quest 2005. On the other hand BULLIMORE and his team on Daedalus still have at least one more Wednesday to go. If they are able to sustain a ten knot average, they will have one more Wednesday, two more Thursdays, two more Fridays and two more weekends at sea, or thereabouts. What if…?