The Race - 1030 - 15/2/01

Mark Chisnell reports as the weather continues to make it tricky for the Racers

Thursday February 15th 2001, Author: Mark Chisnell, Location: United Kingdom
Club Med (light blue) did an involuntary emergency stop this morning - down to six knots - slamming the brakes on as Grant Dalton and his crew wrestle with a complex weather pattern off the coast of Brazil. The strategy at least looked relatively straightforward yesterday, with Club Med apparently through the top of the small high pressure.

Dalton commented yesterday afternoon, "It appears that we have managed to wriggle through here without losing much, I'm very pleased with our progress. We are now in the classic upwind scenario for this part of the world. We are on port tack heading out to the north-east. We'll be headed and we'll eventually tack onto starboard and sail upwind towards the Equator and be slowly lifted as we go."

Leaders at 0700, 15/2/01
The theory is one thing, but as always with these big cats, the practice is another - though in this case, they will actually find it harder than other race boats to optimise their performance in the weather pattern. On this morning's chart (above), it's all going according to plan - Club Med is sailing upwind on port tack into a solid northerly, heading north-east as Dalts describes, sailing towards the easterly breeze to their north-east.

The problem is Club Med's speed, and the cause of the slow down is not that obvious. Certainly, these boats do not go well upwind, and they definitely don't go well upwind in a seaway, and that's exactly what's being demanded of Club Med at the moment. The Falklands current flows north up the Argentinian coast, to meet the Brazil current coming south from Recife - all you need for a rough sea.

Dalton commented yesterday, "We have three days of being nervous coming up, three days of upwind in bad seas, three days of me biting my nails. I told Mike Quilter, our navigator, to avoid upwind sailing here at all costs. If we have to sail extra miles to get out of this area quickly then so be it. Current is something else we factor in. That is the element that makes the rough water. With the current against us and headwinds too we just can't afford to drive our boat fast."

So a breakage is possible, but another complication is the small low pressure system forming very close to Club Med's current position (above) and more visible once it has moved south-west of her in the forecast for tomorrow (below). That could easily be holding them up.

Then there are the random hazards, like the container that Ellen MacArthur hit in the last days of the Vendee. Dalton has already reported once such incident, "We hit a big fish and wrapped it around the daggerboard. We had to back down with the boat to get it off. We didn't damage the boat but I shouldn't think the fish is too happy. We think it was a pilot whale."

Leaders at 0745, 16/2/01A thousand miles behind, Loick Peyron and the Innovation Explorer (green) team will be staring at the weather charts, a familiar pattern, but precisely how it will affect them remains to be seen.

The old South Atlantic High is receding eastwards, having moved neatly out of Club Med's way, and a new high is forming over South America and also drifting east - right into the path of Innovation Explorer.

One forecast has the high forming and moving north-east, chasing Dalton - it may even catch him. In that scenario Innovation Explorer would be on the south of the high, in good westerly breeze and with the wind to try to route around its western edge.

If it all works out for Peyron, it could allow them to close the gap and make a race of it. But if Dalton goes clear and Innovation Explorer gets trapped .... yawn.

continued on page two

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