The Race - the struggle goes onTeam Philips is still out in the North Atlantic, proving the sceptics wrong with a great display of sailing - much to the relief of this correspondent who's more than happy to eat any previously negative aspersions in exchange for the success of this project. They are still working their way round the back of the depression that is presently delivering more flood and travel misery to the beleaguered British public - and Railtrack. The centre of this system will move across Scotland in the next 24 hours, it's followed by a much smaller low pressure that will provide mere 30 knot winds, giving us a couple of days of relative respite - before the next monster one rolls in.
The depression currently building a head of steam off the eastern seaboard of the USA is, if anything, even bigger on the charts at the same stage than the one that's going through now. Come Monday and Tuesday, 11-12 December, the North Atlantic is forecast to be one big low pressure system from Newfoundland to the Canaries, with winds consistently in excess of 40 knots and waves of over 30 feet (Cornish helllmen will be waxing up those big wave guns again, they'll need tow-in jet skis soon). If Team Philips stick around at sea to take this one on the chin, I think we can fairly say that the boat will have been pretty well tested in the conditions they can expect in the Southern Ocean.
The latest word from Goss and his team is that they'd like to get all the way to Barcelona on this trip, and given the forecast and the sea room they've created for themselves by getting so far out into the Atlantic, they have a much better shot at this than the rest of the boats currently trapped in Channel or Brittany ports. PlayStation was hoping to leave on the morning of the 7th December, but with Southampton still battered by strong winds, that now seems unlikely. Team Legato is in the same boat, so to speak, the rig is in and they are close to being ready to sail - the question is whether conditions will allow.
Team Adventure is lashed to the dock in Cherbourg, riding out the storm and also looking for an opportunity to leave, Met man Jean-Yves Bernot reckoned this wouldn't be before Friday morning, 7th December. Team Adventure admitted that the biggest challenge they now face is finding a weather window that will allow them to test the boat and themselves in offshore conditions, while not damaging any gear and delaying their arrival in Monaco. Warta-Polpharma has the same problem as the others, and an extra one, they are still awaiting delivery of the shrouds so they can step the mast.
The problem all these boats face is that these weather systems are creating almost constant strong west and south-westerly wind in the Western Approaches and Bay of Biscay. And if there's one thing these cats were not designed to do, it's batter their way to windward in big seas to round Ushant and Cape Finisterre. That's where Team Philips now has the advantage, positioned to the west out in the Atlantic, her course to Gibraltar is roughly south-east - a much broader and less punishing wind angle.
The key thing for Team Philips in the next few days would seem to be to make the necessary distance south, so that if this weather system is as bad as it looks they can run before it - under bare poles if necessary - right through the Straits of Gibraltar. Gibraltar sits around 35N, and Goss' position on Friday morning must be somewhere around 55N. They need to sail approximately 1200 miles south before this system really cranks up on Monday morning. That means four hundred mile days, which is going some, but the boat is clearly capable of that.
Right now, Goss' move up the North Sea last weekend is looking really smart. As is Code One - or Innovation Explorer as she is now known - having made it to the Med after her break for the border last weekend. If the race to the start is this good, what's the real thing going to be like!