Eaten by the high

An update from the war torn Route du Rhum

Sunday November 17th 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: Transoceanic
Transcript of a conversation with Ellen MacArthur

"...Yes, things have been pretty stressful and worrying over last 24 hours. Basically, the transition period of us being to the east of the Azores high pressure into the west and, in order to get the wind shifts, to get through there we, basically, have to go as close to the centre as we dare - its a bit of a gambling game at the moment as to who gybes when, who goes south when and it's been stressful every time the position reports come through just to see who exactly is going to be in front. But think we made a good call - we were right next to Mike 24 hours ago - I decided to sink deeper to try and get away from the centre of the high whilst we could, while we had enough wind speed and, absolutely, enough wind angle to do that which allowed us to get about 40 miles of separation of latitude from him - that meant when we wanted to head up and sail a bit faster it meant a) we had the space to do that but, also had more wind to do that too so its quite encouraging.

"Definitely feels like we're on the sleigh-ride home though. You know the beginning of the race is always going to be very different - upwind and slow, you just deal with that, just keep going until winds get fairer. Then, obviously, got to get through this high pressure system and then its the ride home and it should be very, very fast this next part from here to Guadeloupe.

"Once we've got out of the high pressure system, it should be pedal to the metal and Guadeloupe here we come on one gybe. But I guess its never that simple!

"Will be quite interesting to see how our boat speed compares as its literally flat-out racing. Also, interesting to see how much lead either boat can get on leaving the high pressure because he who leaves the first, gets the wind first, gets the lead first and, obviously, makes that gap a bit bigger.

"It's always a good feeling to be in front and, ultimately, it tells you you're doing the right thing and it's always nice to know that. Equally, its a very nervous feeling because you've taken the lead again and you've got to try and make all the right calls. You can't see what's happening to the boats in front of you anymore - you've got to make the calls yourself - from that point of view it's quite stressful.

"The decisions are hard - the first thing is, I think mentally is linked directly with the physical. If you make a decision to gybe that's a lot of work to acutally do that. Just gybed a while ago and it took me 25 minutes. It's hard and it's stressful and things can go wrong on a boat this size.

"So, yes, very careful about when you do things - that it's the right time. The other thing is making those decisions when to gybe, when to alter course, before or after the position report comes out or when you NEED too - that's all a massive part of the chess game and its 24 hours a day. When the sun goes down you can't switch off - it's there all night knowing that the other competitor is making those moves too.

"Conditions are a little better - last night because we were approaching the centre of the high, conditions were not that squally. It's not really Trade Winds squalls so from a sleeping point of view had a great nights sleep, really pleased about that. I was very, very tired - slept little first-half of race. Equally, at same time, it's quite stressful being in light airs so its got its pluses and minuses really.

"Next 24 hours going to be a continuation of that same chess game really because basically both of us are gybing north and south trying to make the fastest progress towards the finish and also, equally, get out of this high pressure as fast as we possibly can. It is not going to go away until we get out of here and equally aware that once we get out of here, we're actually going to be on 1 gybe [to Guadeloupe] and the pressure to be fast is going to be enormous. Hand-steering, sailing downwind - exhausted..." [satellite connection lost]

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