The slogging to windward, has taken its toll on several boats racing in the final leg of the Volvo Baltic Race, and was replaced by a light and fluky westerly breeze as the fleet turned north.
This gave at least some opportunity to rest the crews, but making the job of winning even harder for Erle Williams (TeamRS) and Matthew Humphries (Challenge of Netsurvey) who lead the fleet.
The two teams had split as they passed the island of Ven, with TeamRS in the lead, only to be overtaken again by Challenge of Netsurvey who had a better reaching headsail. But, at 1420 local time today, Erle Williams had put TeamRS into the lead, eight miles ahead of Challenge of Netsurvey. "The boys are in good spirits," Williams said by satellite telephone. "The sun is out, we've 54 miles to go to the finish and we're happy with where we are. We're in a good position." Matthew Humphries is still pushing, but the distance between the two boats is now significant. "We left Sandhamn fighting and that's what we're doing now. We will battle to the end."
Frustratingly, the light airs at the centre of the low pressure almost brought the leaders to a standstill as they drifted through Oresund [the channel between Denmark and Sweden] at less than three knots, swapping the lead at every opportunity. But as they tacked out from the shore at Falkenberg, 75 nautical miles from the finish, TeamRS sailed into the new breeze first and immediately saw their boat speed double to six knots.
Further back in the fleet, the heavy weather upwind ride resulted in a rough time for the less experienced crews. Thomas Dhal took Pontona Youth into sheltered waters to wait for the worst of the weather to pass. "Nothing broke, but we were pounding against every wave in the Baltic. We had no instruments, only a handheld GPS, and bad visibility. With such a bad forecast, we decided to play it safe," he explained. They have since retired from the race and are in Karlskrona along with Atea who also retired yesterday.
Sony Ericsson had problems with the track at the top of the mast and stopped momentarily to make repairs before rejoining the race and is now approximately three hours behind the leading pack.
Elanders Ten Celsius had an uncomfortable night, with several crew seasick. At 2230 last night, co-skipper Mikke Lundh reported, "It's pretty tough, but we're pushing as hard as we can." This morning Mikke said that the crew were trying to rest, although Wouter Verbraak, Hans Wallen and Mikke himself were exhausted.
Two of the crew on Nilorn suffered minor injuries to the head and shoulders when the boat gybed in the night, but although they are all tired, they are pushing the boat on at 10 knots of boat speed.
Weather: As the centre of the low pressure moves slowly southeast, the fleet should have consistently increased breeze with initially a freeing wind. Depending on the exact movement of the low, the wind may remain free, but if the low moves further east than forecast, the fleet may have headwinds again of 8 - 12 knots.
The winner of the inaugural Volvo Baltic Race will be decided on the outcome of this final 510 nautical mile leg, and the leaders are expected to cross the line later this evening.