by Oliver Dewar
The Global Ocean Race 2011-12 (GOR) Class40s, armed with conflicting weather data and the likelihood of Tropical Storm Alberto sweeping across the fleet, are relying on experience, instinct, skill and an element of luck as they head north-east away from Cape Hatteras and the coast of the USA.
Frans Budel climbs the mast for headsail repairs - Global Ocean Race 2011-12
Weather files indicate a windless corridor 140 miles wide along the coast and the four boats have been clipping the offshore edge of this zone with the 34-mile lead held by Marco Nannini and Sergio Frattaruolo decreasing rapidly as the Italian-Slovak duo split from the fleet heading east with Financial Crisis while Conrad Colman and Scott Cavanough in second place with Cessna Citation maintained a more northerly course, polling the highest speeds in the fleet, trailing Financial Crisis by 13 miles at 15:00 GMT on Tuesday, but separated by over 100 miles on the water as they scatter into the North Atlantic.
In third and fourth place, the South African and Dutch Class40s are separated by just eight miles and have been fighting against unreadable weather. On Sec. Hayai in fourth, the Budels have found the conditions frustrating: 'Today was very calm and three times we were caught in a windless zone!' reported Frans Budel late on Monday night. 'Very irritating if you are in a race, but we saw on the tracker that everyone was slowing down!'
On board Phesheya-Racing, Phillippa Hutton-Squire and Nick Leggatt have given up relying on weather files: 'By mid-afternoon the wind was down to under four knots from the ESE, and then it gradually filled in from the north leaving us beating upwind once again until around sunset when it died away and settled at just over four knots from the NNE for a time,' reported Leggatt on Monday night. 'Right now the wind is around six knots from the WNW, which contrasts rather interestingly with the latest weather forecast which calls for ten knots from the south!'
The only benefit from the light airs was a chance for repair work on Sec. Hayai: 'As the sea was calm, I made my first mast climb in the Atlantic!' says Frans Budel. 'I had to repair the Solent - it was a hell of a job but I succeeded!'
With the National Hurricane Centre predicting that Tropical Storm Alberto may catch the fleet late on Tuesday and into Wednesday, the offshore route taken by Financial Crisis may pay for Nannini and Frattaruolo if they dig into the southerly winds early, but any analysis is becoming a lottery and the unpredictable track of the anti-clockwise winds around the tropical depression could equally deliver headwinds for the fleet: 'Tropical Storm Alberto is still lurking to the south of us and forecast to make a reappearance in the next day or two,' confirms Nick Leggatt. 'So perhaps it is no surprise that the predictions are a bit topsy-turvy!'
GOR leaderboard at 15:00 GMT 22/05/12:
1. Financial Crisis DTF 3128 9.1kts
2. Cessna Citation DTL 13.8 9.7kts
3. Phesheya-Racing DTL 61 6.4kts
4. Sec. Hayai DTL 69 7.5kts
Global Ocean Race website