Leg four kicks off Sunday
At present the race has dominant leaders in both classes. Swiss sailor Bernard Stamm has won every leg of the race so far as has American Brad van Liew in class two. Similarly the second placed boats look reasonably established with Thierry Dubois a consistent second in class one and Tim Kent's Everest Horizontal the only other 50 remaining in class two, following the retirement of John Dennis and Bayer Ascensia during the last leg.
Although the form has apparently been set, previous Around Alones have shown that it is dangerous to make calls on the form until the boats have finally crossed the finish line. In the race four years ago Mike Golding was overall leader until he hit the top of New Zealand putting him out of the race. Isabelle Autissier then seemed to be the class act before her boat PRB capsized and remained inverted in the middle of the Pacific section of the Southern Ocean. Marc Thiercelin moved into the lead only to dismast soon after rounding Cape Horn. The war of attrition was eventually won by Giovanni Soldini aboard Fila.
For the class leaders a game of prudence is in order. "I think Bernard [Stamm]’s boat makes him push really hard," comments Brad van Liew. "I think that even though he and I have said in private that we both think it’s best if we just chill and take this one easy because we’re both in a pretty powerful position points-wise. The problem is that my boat goes pretty well at a good pace if I’m not pushing whereas Bernard’s boat is a very demanding boat. If you push it hard it is probably the fastest boat in the fleet, if you don’t it is one of the slowest boat. If you look at the way it floats - it floats really high, it is fatter than it should be in some spots – it is just demanding. If you can push it hard it is super fast. I think Bernard feels the need to keep the hammer down to a certain degree."
Second placed Thierry Dubois meanwhile is playing the Soldini-style waiting game. "Thierry’s theory though is that he’s going to keep doing that until something breaks," explains van Liew. "Bernard [Stamm] in all fairness almost didn’t make it here and almost had to put into Hobart – he had a lot of problems. And Thierry does push really hard. Emma [RIchards] is doing a really good job and pushes pretty hard. Bruce [Schwab] is learning a new boat. Graham [Dalton] is learning his boat – his boat is probably the fastest in the fleet, given the right circumstances and if he can do it right. He got on the podium in the last leg and is in a good position to win a leg. Simone [Bianchetti] is breaking in a new rig, but the boat is a bullet..."
Some of the most dangerous weather is found on leg three particularly in the sea area to the south of Australia. On the Pacific Ocean the conditions are slightly different. The weather systems tend to be larger and more intense, but equally easier to forecast and anticipate. However the fact that it was on this leg of the race eight years ago that British competitor Harry Mitchell was lost at sea without trace has not been lost on the skippers. Leg four will also see the boats sail as far south as they are likely to get in order to round Cape Horn at 56degS.
The great circle to Cape Horn shows it to be 4,220 miles away and would take the boats down to around 65degS. However the further south the boats go the more chance they have of encountering icebergs and so the race organisation have prudently included two waypoints at 55degS, one at 130 and 100degW. The shortest distance to Cape Horn taking in these waypoints is 4,415 miles and should keep the boats no further than 56degS. It is then another 2,920 miles up the coast the Brazil finish port.
The skippers have been working with Robin Knox-Johnston and the race committee to establish these waypoints - however of greater concern is a giant berg 11 miles long by 4 wide that is currently 400 miles to the north of the Falklands ( see iceberg A46 here).
Router Marcel van Triest who is working with Graham Dalton says that there is unlikely to be much wind for tomorrow's start, although the hot weather here causes a quite reasonable sea breeze to develop later in the afternoon. There is a small probability that a tropical cyclone might come south towards the end of the week. This depends upon a corridor between two high pressure systems being created, but if this happens there is one forecast which suggests it will go south and 'explode' as the warm air from the tropical cyclone combines energises against the polar air from the Southern Ocean.