Gambling at the Azores High casino
For the Chilean team, the south-westerly air stream is a gift and with their Class 40 at its optimum wind angle, the gains have been impressive over the past 24 hours with Cubillos and Muñoz adding 30 miles to their lead over Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme and Desafio Cabo de Hornos currently leads Beluga Racer by 100 miles.
Over Sunday and Monday, Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson made a big dent in the distance to the fleet leaders, delivering some of the highest speeds in the fleet on board Team Mowgli. “We have had a fast and furious night with winds steady at 28-30 knots with gusts up to 35 and pretty heavy seas,” reported Salvesen late on Monday. “We had the small spinnaker up for the early part of the night until the wind shifted slightly and we needed to head a little further south, so we changed down to the Code 5,” he continues. “Boat speeds have been wonderful, topping out at nearly 19 knots, and we have continued to make good progress in catching up a little on the leaders.”
There is, however, a barrier in front of the fleet. “We are all headed for a big area of light winds in what is known as the Azores High,” explains the British skipper. “The leaders will run into it first and we should keep the stronger breeze for another day or so before we, too, get caught.” Currently trailing Beluga Racer by 128 miles, the capricious nature of the high pressure system is becoming evident and Team Mowgli has slowed to just under ten knots as Beluga Racer and Desafio Cabo de Hornos continue to hang onto the breeze making 10.2 knots and 11.8 knots respectively.
“What happens when we all get into this area is really anyone's guess and big gains or losses can be made by any one of us,” predicts Salvesen. “The weather forecasters are quite good at telling you almost exactly where strong winds and fronts are, but when it comes to finding a path through complex highs, the science seems to go out of the window as these systems float around with a mind of their own,” he notes. “Knowing exactly what it is going to look like tomorrow is an impossible task.”
When gambling on the movement of the Azores High, the house usually wins, although weather models suggest that an extension of the system bulging north-east towards Europe may snare the fleet. If this is the case, Salvesen’s prediction could materialise with dramatic compression within the double-handed class. For solo sailor Michel Kleinjans, 370 miles west of Team Mowgli, speed averages have risen since midnight with Roaring Forty currently averaging 10.7 knots as the Belgian Open 40 rides the top of the Azores High.
For the highly experienced German team on Beluga Racer, the Azores High offers an opportunity to simply enjoy the sailing. “It does hurt to have to sit here unable to push the boat hard,” admitted Boris Herrmann yesterday as the spreader damage continues to be a handicap. “With clipped wings we float over the sea, nevertheless like a bird of prey,” he continues. “So, we’re slightly underpowered and have discharged the water ballast and Beluga Racer accelerates easily, occasionally hitting 14 knots. It is a great pleasure to just stand on the bow and enjoy the ride as the boat takes off in surfs and flies into the next wave. It’s like driving a chariot without holding onto the reins.”
Currently sailing directly above the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the closest doublehanded boat to the Azores, Herrmann and Oehme are soaking up the atmosphere with 930 miles of precious racing in this circumnavigation remaining. “As the sun sets after a superb day out in the Azores High, I grab my camera while dolphins appear and jump waves around the boat and it is impossible to wipe the smile from my face,” says Herrmann. “However, the camera remains in its case as I know by now that these playful companions don’t like being filmed or photographed at all, and as quickly as they arrived, they suddenly vanish.”
Whatever the Azores High holds for the fleet, for Team Mowgli, light winds could be a short term benefit. “We have suffered some further serious damage to our mainsail overnight and there is now a large area of delamination which is going to take some patching and stitching as soon as the wind drops off a bit more,” admits Salvesen. “It isn't a particularly difficult job if we can get the boom into the middle of the boat but it will take us some hours to do,” he explains. “A perfect job for the light patch ahead.”
Leaderboard 0620 UTC Tuesday 16 June:
1. Desafio Cabo de Hornos – DTL 0.0nm Spd 11.8 kts
2. Beluga Racer – DTL 100nm Spd 10.2 kts
3. Team Mowgli – DTL 228nm Spd 9.8 kts
1. Roaring Forty – DTL 0.0nm Spd 10.7 kts