The Race - 1030 - 21/2/01

Mark Chisnell reports as Club Med turn their thoughts to the next obstacle - the Doldrums

Wednesday February 21st 2001, Author: Mark Chisnell, Location: United Kingdom
There have been big gains for Grant Dalton and Club Med (light blue) in the last 24 hours, as they race north in the trade winds while Innovation Explorer (green) struggles to free herself from the South Atlantic High. The lead is more than 1200 miles this morning, and Dalton has a little less than 3,500 miles to go.

Elena Caputo reported their frustrations aboard Innovation Explorer yesterday, "Although for some hours this morning we had a chance to be optimistic as we were making decent speed on a north-west course, the wind died out in the afternoon and we seem to be constantly stuck in a ridge as the high that was supposed to go east has slipped a bit north."
Leaders at 0700, 21/2/01

But they are almost clear of the high pressure centre now, and should see the easterly breeze start to build and the speed come on (below). At the same time, Club Med will close with the next obstacle, the Doldrums, and their weather team are already working on the problem.

Weather at 1915, 22/2/01Dalton explained yesterday, "Setting up for the Doldrums is always complex. The basics are about crossing at the narrowest point, usually in the west. But if you go too far west and get too close to the coast there is no wind. You also end up a long way to leeward for the north-east trades and the upwind sailing that follows on the other side. A compromise must be found but it can be scientifically chosen. With the technology we have now and the ability to have a router ashore we are able to get much closer to all this information and make informed decisions at the right time. Right now I am looking at photographs here, taken by satellite of the clouds over the Doldrums.

"Watching cumulo-nimbus clouds forming in real time from on top when you are at sea level is pretty cool. The ability to do this allows us to watch things like tropical waves and other meteorological phenomena that help us choose our path through the Doldrums."

In this race, it's not just the team on board that are watching the weather, Roger 'Clouds' Badham is the router ashore and Dalton had something to say about that too, "Clouds is pivotal to our success to date. That doesn't mean that our navigator Mike Quilter on board has done nothing, on the contrary he has had a great race too, but the two are working really well together.

"I would say that 'Clouds' is putting more time into this than we are at the moment. He gets four hours sleep in every 24 and is on the phone to us at least eight times a day. He sends us emails with the positions every hour along with his comments that usually run to a couple of volumes of 'War and Peace' each time ..."

But Dalton also had some interesting thoughts on the general principle of weather routing, "I have never sailed in a race where routing was allowed before. I think it is great and I would recommend it for the next Volvo Race. For me in my career I think it is more fun. We are able to do a more clinical job on the route we choose as a result. This is after all a mechanised sport, technology and everything is here to stay."

It's an interesting opinion as race organisers face difficult decisions going forward, with the advances in satellite communications. The traditional offshore racing rules forbid any outside assistance, but with complete access to the internet and a phone that can call anyone, any time, anywhere, the distinctions between what is reasonable moral support and outside assistance is grey and getting greyer.

The simplest solution is to allow weather routing for all the big offshore events. One argument against it is the added expense of the shore teams (where would it end, spotters on hill tops and in helicopters as the boat approaches a coastline?). But there has always been a philosophical argument that it changes the game radically when the sailors don't just have themselves to rely on. The fact that someone with Dalton's Whitbread experience is now in the pro-routing camp matters - he's an influential man.

However, I digress - while Club Med face the Doldrums in the next 24 hours, Loick Peyron and the Innovation Explorer weather team may also be looking at the problem, but with something much more radical in mind. They could just go for the crossing from all the way over in their easterly position. If they got through without getting held up, then they would save hundreds of miles over the detour to the west to go through near Club Med's 'conventional' crossing point. Equally they could end up stuck for a couple of days if they get it wrong - Peyron's been a bit of a gambler so far, watch this space for their decision ...
continued on page two

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