The Race - 0830 - 7/2/01

Crunch time - story by Sean McNeill, for Quokka Sports

Wednesday February 7th 2001, Author: Sean McNeill, Location: United Kingdom
Club Med skipper Grant Dalton is perplexed over the weather scenario as he streaks toward Cape Horn with Innovation Explorer threatening his 600-mile lead.

After watching his lead over second place Innovation Explorer dwindle to less than 600 miles, Grant Dalton and the Club Med crew are temporarily back in the speed zone. According to yesterday's 1900 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) position reports, Club Med was sailing at 23 knots below 56 S, and led Loïck Peyron's crew by 642 miles. The lead continued to build overnight and was just over 700 miles this morning.

But Dalton, navigator Mike Quilter and shoreside router Roger "Clouds" Badham are perplexed by the ridge of high pressure that's 500 miles wide and directly in their path. After losing 73 miles in 18 hours to Innovation Explorer, Dalton was confounded by the weather situation.

"We hope to be able to control Innovation and maintain our 600-mile lead," Dalton said. "My only worry is this huge bubble that appeared this morning on the weather files and that could, within three or four days, block our access to the Horn.

"This part of the Southern Ocean is usually marked by more complex weather patterns, multiple low centers, troughs and ridges, but in all my Whitbreads to date I have never been caught out in one of these before," Dalton continued. "A ridge of high pressure is setting up ahead of us. It is moving slowly forward, but not as fast as we are. It is a 500-mile-wide wall and we are going to run into it."

Peyron's crew was spurred on last night by rough weather. The anemometer topped out at 59 knots. Under a triple-reefed main and staysail, the crew was able to maintain boatspeed above 25 knots in the nasty seaway.

Elena Caputo suffered a minor injury when she was thrown against the cockpit wall as the boat skipped over a wave. "It was without a shadow of doubt our windiest day," said Caputo. "We coped with it really well, without tiring the boat by perfectly adapting our sail plan to the wind strength and above all the state of the sea, which obliged us to attack a little to avoid digging into the waves."

Back in the fleet, Tony Bullimore and crew on Team Legato have their eyes fixed on Roman Paszke's Warta-Polpharma. "We hope soon to get under 1,000 miles," said Bullimore.

The Briton has passed Crozet and intended leaving the Kerguelens to starboard last night. Team Legato is going fast. "We're not pushing the boat beyond her limits. We only have three gennakers onboard, all adapted to one type of wind, and we don't want to risk losing them. The route is still long," Bullimore said.

The route indeed remains long. At 1900 Club Med was 9,406 miles from the finish, and much closer to frustration. "I feel a bit like Michel Desjoyeaux in the Vendée Globe," Dalton said. "Every time he worked out a big lead the weather ahead threw a wall up and he parked for a while whilst everyone else caught him again from behind. It's happened three times to him and this will be the third time it has happened to us."

Standings (at 0700 GMT)

1 Club Med, 9,140.5 miles to the finish
2 Innovation Explorer, +701.5 miles
3 Team Adventure, +4,851.5 miles
4 Warta-Polpharma, +5,549.7 miles
5 Team Legato, +6,519.5 miles

First published on QuokkaSailing.com, republished with permission.

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