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21 March 2005, 11:47 am
Shredding The Planet
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Oryx Quest 2005

The two remaining boats in the Oryx Quest 2005 are gobbling up horizons and spitting them out the back in two-metre high rooster tails as they shred the planet. The speed on both boats has barely dropped below 20 knots for the last 24 hours.
In the Atlantic Tony BULLIMORE (GBR) and his team on Daedalus are riding the northern edge of a powerful Southern Ocean front that is feeding them strong westerly winds. The forecast is for the wind to increase during the day today with gusts approaching 50 knots as the big catamaran hurtles down the face of short, steep waves. Fortunately the wind is from astern, and with reduced sail the boat is reveling in the conditions, the kind of sailing Nigel IRENS (GBR) had in mind when he designed the boat 21 years ago. Despite numerous circumnavigations and as many refits, the British-based multihull is still a rocket ship boat in the right conditions. BULLIMORE shared his thoughts in his daily log:

'For the last few hours we have been tramping along doing around 20 knots going due east,' he wrote. 'It's the first time for a few days that l feel we are on a really positive course to the finishing line. It is a fact that we have had poor weather conditions since Hurricane Percy back in the Southern Ocean, and over long periods we have had the wrong winds which has not allowed us to have great 500 mile plus daily runs. We have 8,000 odd miles to go to the finishing line and we can still do the fastest non-stop round-the-world time that Daedalus has ever done throughout her racing career. It would be a tremendous to sail the fastest circumnavigation of the globe for this boat.'

In the Indian Ocean Doha 2006 is still making excellent progress towards the finish despite the fact that the weather pattern has forced the crew to cut a wide arc around South Africa. They are still making a lot of easting as they wait for the right moment to turn north. At the 0700 hours GMT poll on Monday morning Doha 2006 was 185 miles due north of the Crozet Islands, another remote, rocky cluster of islands in the Southern Ocean inhabited by birds, seals and an occasional scientist.

The past week's racing has been a tactical minefield that would have made for an interesting race had Cheyenne and Geronimo still been in competition. Paul LARSEN (AUS), on board Doha 2006, discusses what might have been. 'This current weather system would have been a great leveller had the other two big boats still been racing,' he wrote. 'I think that the lead we had over Cheyenne would have evaporated quite quickly. There would be plenty of options open for people to take calculated guesses and create separation. Oh well, in this respect we certainly should be grateful. The major glaring issue with these boats, and what is trying to be achieved in these events, is the fact that these big multihulls constantly struggle to maintain even a 50% reliability record in non-stop round-the-world races/record attempts.'

Despite sophisticated weather receiving equipment on board both boats, route planning still requires a steady head and a certain amount of luck as LARSEN noted in his own inimitable way of describing things. 'Yesterday we sailed on a breeze no-one predicted, from a direction that no-one expected,' he wrote in his log. 'This makes it difficult to know whether or not it is taking you in the right direction, or the wrong direction as you wait for the weather models to catch up with the reality. Are we in a ridge, a high or a low? Is it a front? Nope, it's a little low which has formed in a ridge of High pressure! Ahh, that old classic.'

And so the age-old debate continues between the on-watch crew trimming the sails and sailing the boat, and 'brains' below studying weather, planning strategy and making tactical decisions. Who knows best? Those on deck watching the wind and the cloud patterns in 'real time', or those below using expensive computers and high-tech equipment to predict the future?

Fortunately the weather is constantly changing and a new set of problems will arise in the next few days as skipper Brian THOMPSON (GBR) alluded to in his daily log. 'Up ahead near Mauritius there is a tropical depression brewing and we have to factor that into our decision making. How big will it get, and where is it going to move to?'

The debate goes on.

Brian Hancock (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Doha 2006:© Quest International Sports
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