As the Velux 5 Oceans boats struggle to get past Portugal, so two different tactics are coming into play - as a depression moves slowly southeast from its position over the Azores, so the lead duo of Pole Zbigniew Gutkowski on Operon Racing and race favourite American Brad van Liew on Le Pingouin have been forging west while Britain's Chris Stanmore-Major has been hugging the Portugese coast, taking the light winds on the chin with the potential benefit of sailing a much shorter course.
Former Clipper Round the World Yacht Race skipper Stanmore-Major reported yesterday: “It’s fine, no problem at all. I’m making myself comfortable, there’s of little housekeeping jobs I should be doing but I’m enjoying trimming the boat and also dealing with some of the mechanical issues I’ve had. I’m feeling very comfortable, very much at home.”
But after 72 hours of racing, the enormity of the challenge ahead of CSM is starting to sink in. “I think it is something when you step off Cape Finisterre and into the Atlantic you do start to realise ‘wow, I’ve got a long way to go’. Last time I did that it was just to Brazil, which felt a long way. This time I’m going to knock the corner at the edge of Brazil and then dive off towards Cape Town, which feels like a very long way away. This kind of stuff is all about taking each day at a time, each trip on deck at a time, each sail change at a time. Just deal with each individual step and in the end you’ll be at the top of the mountain.”
Yesterday his tactics saw him pick up to second place but this morning he is down to third with race leader Zbigniew Gutkowskinow 91 miles ahead in terms of DTF.
“I am actually feeling happy,” CSM added. “It’s one of those things where there is a big mix of emotions for the first couple of days. You’ve got to go through the process of tearing yourself away from all the things you are used to – your family, your friends, loved ones, home comforts. There is a change that occurs, certainly at an emotional level. That’s a normal process for any kind of voyaging whether you are a blue water cruiser or merchant seaman or whoever. Departing the land is physical and emotional and I am very aware of that and I realise it is a natural part of leaving on a big journey. It certainly feels like I’m through that now and I’m enjoying the sailing and the racing. I’ve got the Banana Boat to catch so that’s something to look forward to.”
Out in front is American ocean racer Brad Van Liew, who has been struggling with a cold and lack of sleep since starting the race on Sunday. “It is definitely a bit strange, getting back in the groove after so long away from solo racing,” he said, “but lots of work aboard keeps my mind off shore side life, and things will settle in soon. Looking forward to being more at home out here!”
Polish racer Gutek and Canadian Derek Hatfield have been pushing hard as the fleet move out of the Bay of Biscay and into the Atlantic. Lack of sleep is taking its toll on Derek, currently in fourth place. “All is well aboard though I am frustrated with my position as you might expect,” he said. “I have been unable to sleep since the start and it has affected my sailing and decision making. The light air is more frustrating than any other because you have to concentrate so much more.”
Belgian ocean racer Christophe Bullens is due to restart the race in the next couple of days after returning to La Rochelle to complete final preparations. Christophe had to sail a 48-hour qualification passage on his new Eco 60 Five Oceans of Smiles too after his previous yacht was dismasted en route to La Rochelle two weeks before the start of the race.
Weather-wise the westbound boats are likely to have to sail within 150 miles of the Azores if they are to skirt around to the favourable west side of the depression, or a further 160-170 miles of sailing west for the Polish race leader, although with the system moving gradually southeast they will be able to cut the corner tonight putting them into a favourable band of 25-30 knot northeasterlies to propel them south. Generally 'getting west' is a struggle on this race course, so Gutkowski and van Liew will benefit in the long term from having made this move early.
As to the fate of CSM - he looks set to be dogged by light winds and it won't be until tomorrow afternoon that the wind fills in from the north for him. By then the leaders will have done a horizon job.