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22 March 2005, 11:15 am
Another Twist In The Tale
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Oryx Quest 2005

Doha 2006 is preparing for the worst as she heads towards the island of Mauritius and what could be a developing cyclone. After the retirement of Cheyenne and Geronimo skipper Brian THOMPSON (GBR) is all too aware of the dangers present and he and navigator Will OXLEY (AUS) have been working round the clock to plan a prudent route forwards.

Doha 2006 is sliding eastwards in near perfect conditions as they chase the wake of a high pressure system. The fog has lifted, and with it's disappearance a concurrent rise in temperature has made life on board most agreeable for the international crew. The big cat is loping along at a steady 20 knots, eating up ocean miles, but unfortunately not closing in on the finish at any great rate.

By now they should have turned to the north to sail a direct course for the island of Mauritius, a required turning mark of the course, however a developing tropical disturbance right over the tiny sun drenched island has the crew worried. The US Met office, expert in predicting tropical cyclones, has upgraded the chances of this disturbance turning into something more ominous. That something more ominous could be a full blown cyclone which has THOMPSON and his team concerned.

'We are trying to get as much easting in as possible now whilst we can so as to set up for that next system,' THOMPSON wrote in his daily log. 'Right now it's just a tiny blip on the satellite picture, but in each forecast run it is becoming a more significant feature and there is now a 'fair' chance that it will develop into a cyclone. This system is going to park directly over Mauritius, which is a port hand turning mark of the course. That means that on the east side of the depression there are going to be very strong northerlies that would not be safe to go through, and on the west side there will be southerlies, but that would mean missing out the turning mark of Mauritius. The only option, therefore, is to go way out to the east and leave the whole system to port. It's a tricky one as outside the system there are going to be very light winds and it's going to be hard to move out of the way if the depression starts to do the unexpected.' By that THOMPSON means turn into a savage, unpredictable storm that could scuttle their win and jeopardize their safety.

Below decks in a cramped navigation station in the starboard hull THOMPSON and his navigator OXLEY have spent the last 36 hours downloading as much weather information as they can get their hands on. They are also working with their weather routers on land to strike a balance between prudence and the fact that they are racing hard to get back to Doha. While modern technology allows a boat to 'surf' the internet while underway, it is a painfully slow surf as the connection speed is about a quarter of the rate of a slow dial-up connection. One map can take half an hour to download, say nothing of the cost of the connection, but it is important information.

The problem THOMPSON and OXLEY face is that not all forecasters agree and it often takes a while before their thinking on a certain weather disturbance becomes unified. By the time there is a consensus, it may be too late to take avoiding action. THOMPSON's log continues: 'Will and I have not had much sleep over the last 36 hours, but right now things are steadying out. Most of the information is starting to come into agreement so we are able to catch up on some rest. No doubt in six hours it will all change again, but for now we are doing good speed in the right direction, not on course for Doha but getting into a defensive position for the future.' The next 24 hours are going to be critical for the Qatari cat.

Tony BULLIMORE (GBR) and his team on Daedalus have officially entered the Roaring Forties once again as they dive south. At the 0700 GMT poll on Tuesday morning Daedalus was at 42 degrees south sailing at 19.5 knots. The low pressure system that had been feeding them strong westerly winds for the last 24 hours has moved off and the breeze has moderated somewhat as the crew work their way along the fringes of the Southern Ocean. They are already a third of the way across the South Atlantic and 400 miles further south of where Doha 2006 was at the same point in the race. New images from on board show clear skies and some pleasant sailing on tap as Daedalus continues a steady pace to the finish now less than 8,000 miles away.

Brian Hancock (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Crew On Board Doha 2006:© Quest International Sportsw
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