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5 April 2005, 11:57 am
Between Dangerous Waters And Dangerous Winds
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Oryx Quest 2005

Tony BULLIMORE (GBR) and his team on board Daedalus have done a masterful job of skirting the edge of a severe tropical storm as they sailed past the Mauritius turning mark. The storm, which has been on a collision course with the boat for the past five days, was upgraded to a severe tropical storm and named 'Isang' just as BULLIMORE and his crew were approaching the worst of the winds.
Around midnight boat time on Monday night Daedalus past abeam of the island of Mauritius leaving a healthy 100 mile gap between the boat and the required turning mark. Whilst this gap brought their course closer to the centre of Isang, now only 300 miles away, BULLIMORE and his navigator, Nick LEGGATT (RSA), were actually heading to pass west of some dangerous shoals that lie to the northeast of Mauritius.

The Cargados shoals, which include tiny Coco Island, are a treacherous body of water littered with coral heads and include the shallow Nazareth Bank. In short it is no place to be in a hurricane and with Isang still tracking to the southwest they are still running a narrow chicane between dangerous waters and dangerous winds. The good news is that they are in the safe quadrant of the storm but are experiencing some hazardous wind speeds. Meteo France, the official weather experts providing detailed forecasts for the race, produced the following forecast for the area where Daedalus is now sailing. 'Cyclonic 30/45 knots with gusts 50/60 knots increasing 45/50 knots with gusts over 65 knots later. Seas very rough. Probability of thunder squalls high.' Not the kind of news that leaves one tingling with joy.

At the 0700 hours GMT poll on Tuesday morning Daedalus was sailing at 21.8 knots hightailing it north in strong following winds. They have another 600 miles to go before they are clear of bad water to leeward. Beyond the Cargados shoals lies the Saya de Malha bank, another area of shallow water, and with the centre of the cyclone still north of their present position they are going to get even closer to the deadly centre of the storm.

They do, however, have some options. Now that they are past Mauritius they can run off to the west to get away from the worst winds. They have to avoid the Cargados shoals at all costs; the Saya de Malha bank is shallow, but not shoal. They could pass over the bank, but it will not be pleasant as the seas will become short and steep in the shallow water and potentially very dangerous. Pick your poison. For now, however, it seems that Daedalus is moving fast enough to get north of Isang without being forced to alter course. Again, the next 24 hours are going to be interesting. Understandably BULLIMORE has not sent an email in the past few days.

It is hard to imagine how two boats in the same race could be sailing in such different conditions. Whilst Daedalus deals with gales force winds, Doha 2006 sits becalmed on a glassy ocean. At the same 0700 poll the boat speed on Doha 2006 was down to a less-than-spectacular 0.5 of a knot. Since midnight boat time, Doha 2006 has only covered 18 miles toward the finish leaving them with 180 miles to go to the entrance of the Gulf of Oman. The forecast does not hold out much hope for Brian THOMPSON (GBR) and his merry band of around-the-world sailors. In his daily log THOMPSON described the conditions for the next few days. 'Ahead it looks like more extremely light winds as we approach closer to the coast,' he wrote. 'This will be a transition period after which we get a short period of southwesterly winds. From then on we will have variable winds to the Strait of Hormuz and onwards from there to the finish in Doha. It's extremely hard to predict any kind of ETA as we are going to be passing through about 20 different winds between here and the finish. It will be very like sailing in the Mediterranean, either no wind, or too much.'

These past few days have been extremely tedious for the crew on Doha 2006. If you have still half the course to complete and few days of calm weather does not bother you. As you get closer to the finish and thoughts understandably turn to family and home, the delays become hard to take. The Indian Ocean has not been kind to THOMPSON and his team, but the good news is that the boat is in good condition and the finish is not too far off. They are not taking any chances, however, and offered Neptune a small token as THOMPSON described in his log of a few days ago. 'Earlier this morning we passed through the 1,000 miles to go barrier, and after some celebrating we started throwing our rice crackers in the water. Not in a fit of total madness (we are still in food rationing mode) but to offer another gift to Neptune - protection money, you might call it. We have so far paid our bill twice crossing the equator and then once on rounding the Horn, and it seems to be working, so we are continuing with it, keeping the big, bearded guy happy. We have now done 24,500 miles - we have 4% of our voyage to go.'

Since writing that log Doha 2006 has reduced the percentage still to sail to 3%; not much in the grand scheme of things, but a lot of open water remains between their two bows and the first sip of something other than desalinated water. Thoughts of a big steak or fresh fish, both of which are plentiful and delicious in Doha, must be put aside for now and the next freeze dried fare savoured until the dunes of Doha appear on the horizon ahead.

Brian Hancock. Image, Doha 2006:© Quest International Sports
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