After recording some of the fastest 24 hour runs of the race on leaving Charleston SC (USA) for the start of ocean sprint four on Saturday, the fleet of four Eco 60s in the Velux 5 Oceans have reached the end of the high speed gulf stream highway. The reason is the large high pressure system sitting off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, which has seen the temperature drop and the fog close in on the ocean racers.
With the arrival of light airs, leg and race leader Brad Van Liew has extended his lead over second placed Chris Stanmore-Major. The American skipper, who had been concerned that his boat Le Pingouin would be overhauled by the charging British skipper on Spartan as he posted speeds in excess of 20 knots, has succeeded in holding onto the top spot - for now. Locked in a battle for second place overall in the race, Derek Hatfield continues to hold a 50 mile advantage over Polish competitor Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutkowski.
Speaking from Active House, currently in third place and 75 miles behind Van Liew, the Canadian race veteran concluded, 'I prefer to be in this position right now and protect my position between Gutek and the finish line. It's a bit more pressure of course - Brad would tell you about it - but it's easier than having to be the hunter. We have about 12 knots of wind and we're doing 10 knots of boatspeed upwind. And it's starting to be foggy. We are actually going to have a lot of fog in the next two days as we are sailing north in a high pressure system straight to Halifax. We're only 150 miles from my house. It's strange for me to be so close from home. ETA for La Rochelle is about nine to ten days from now because we are slowed by this high pressure system for two days.'
Stanmore-Major, who is on the final leg on his way to completing his first solo circumnavigation, added, 'About six hours ago the fog for which this area is famous closed in and since then my world has been 60ft x 20ft plus the mere hundred yards more I can see beyond that. The water temperature dropped ten degrees in as many miles this morning and suddenly the world beyond Spartan's deck spreaders became white and formless. Tactically this next section is difficult with no apparent way through the high pressure ahead except a saw-tooth arc to the North gybing and gybing again close to the coast of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and then Newfoundland'
Gutek remains in contention 120 miles behind Brad but is going up the mast today to make repairs. More news tomorrow on how Gutek gets on going up the mast for the fourth time this race - no mean feat. Chris Stanmore-Major'
'OK, this is not cool, it's cold- but it's not cool. What on earth are we doing up here? Had I known we would be taking the scenic route I would have packed my thermals and brought a copy of the Newfoundland Pilot. About 6 hours ago the fog for which this area is famous closed in and since then my world has been 60ft x 20ft plus the mere hundred yards more I can see beyond that. The water temperature dropped ten degrees in as many miles this morning and suddenly the world beyond Spartan's deck spreaders became white and formless, wrapping us up tight like a child in swaddling. At times like this that I realize how much time I normally spend on deck looking at the sea and how easy it is to pass the time noting the changing colours and patterns in the sky, the rise and fall of the sun and moon and how synchronised I become to the world around me. That is hidden from sight now and my previous experience of the Grand Banks tells me this may be the case for a few days until we clear the shoals and head out into open ocean once more. Life on deck with no cover is damp and miserable so it is back to my Southern Ocean cave inside Spartan's cabin and back to trying to hurry the days along until something interesting happens.
Tactically this next section is difficult with no apparent way through the high pressure ahead except a saw-tooth arc to the North gybing and gybing again close to the coast of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and then Newfoundland. This has all the appeal right now of a smack round the head with a wet cod after the fun I had in the last few days leaping and surfing my way up to within striking distance of Brad but there is no other way so I will dedicate myself to the perfection of the full main and solent gybe when the time comes in an effort to maintain maximum speed and not let the banana boat slip away.
Life on board in such conditions - upwind at the moment, full sail, sailing by the wind - is relaxed to the point of being horizontal. With the sails trimmed to the perfect angle for the wind direction I am working to, Spartan needs very little attention. Routing is just a case of sail fast and try to stay as close as I can to the rhumb line and with nothing to mend, modify or attend to the hours drag out giving the mind far too long to chew over this and that. I have already pounded my way through the book that was meant to last me to La Rochelle and I am debating whether to start the emergency book I brought along - if it goes at the same rate I shall have nothing to read by the time I exit the fog - which leaves 2500Nm looking at the cheery comments written on the walls.
It seems to me that once boat and sailor are happy in each other's company and the trials of learning and developing are over this life becomes somewhat akin to being in the armed services - 90 percent nothing to do, 10 percent out and out action. It is a bizarre thing to rest and wake, rest and wake purely to tend to sheets and computers, to keep the machine ticking. The feeling of being a component of the boat rather than its driver is over-whelming - still rewarding even after so many miles - but the 90 percent between the 10 now seems to drag in a way that makes me think four years between such projects is probably a good thing for boat and sailor alike.
For now though Derek is drawing closer and must be covered, and Gutek with his guile and skill is not to be ignored as he settles his boat down into that steady groove that can make him so dangerous.
Personally I am just happy to be able to sit here far enough up the field to know that whilst I stare at the deckhead and think about home - Brad is doing the same but also coming to terms with the thought that someone is only a horizon behind and has the tools now to catch him - a new experience for him I think and one I hope we will all enjoy in the coming days.
Velux 5 Oceans website