Thou Shall Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wind

On Wednesday, Oct. 3, Lisa Charles’ Amer Sports Too was clipping along at more than 7 knots, and over a 24-hour period, had sailed 209 miles to pull within 60 miles of the Volvo Ocean Race frontrunners. Meanwhile, John Kostecki’s illbruck challenge, the current leader by only 3 miles, reported having spent their night jibing all over creation, scouring the glassy Atlantic for any breath of wind. They wanted what the girls had, but it was not to be.

Also feeling the heat this morning was Grant Dalton, who, in fourth place at the 10:00 GMT position report was maintaining less than 4 knots. At the time, he was in danger of being passed by his challenge partners on Amer Sports Too, and his frustration with his pace was obvious. "Totally becalmed all night and the dawn has come with an oily ocean," wrote Dalton this morning. "We are simply trapped by a hole that has developed and come over the fleet. It was predicted, we have watched it on the weather maps now for a couple of days hoping that maybe it would not happen. We believe that by this evening the pattern will start to return more to normal and release us into what may be called a more normal trade wind. The toughest ocean race is right now the most boring ocean race as we struggle not with the conditions but with the mental boredom of simply being parked for hour after hour." The 16:00 GMT position report today, however, revealed that Dalton’s lot had dramatically improved. The latest numbers show that Amer Sports One has found either the "normal" trade winds, or at least a friendly cloud-their speed down the course had jumped to nearly 9 knots."

Over the past six days of southbound crawling, the leaders have covered less than 1,300 miles, and the trip to the desirable tradewinds is taking much longer than they expected. Dalton himself, a five-time veteran of this race, predicted today that the 7,000-plus-mile leg to Cape Town could take up to 40 days. Many of the teams stocked only a month’s worth of food, and some, including Ross Field’s Team News Corp are now rationing protein powder and snacks. These items have been removed from the menu and are being saved for later in the leg.

While the light conditions have required less physical stamina, the crew’s mental stamina has suffered most. TNC’s skipper Jez Fanstone, perhaps tired of looking over his shoulder at Roy Heiner and Mark Rudiger’s Assa Abloy, wrote of the stress of the last two days. "It seems like we cannot shake off this high pressure and have spent the last few days playing dodge ’ems with wind-eating clouds," said Fanstone. "Some are unavoidable and last an eternity whilst you know that the other boats will be moving forward faster than you." Undoubtedly, Fanstone was referring to illbruck, which over the past 48 hours made its strategic coup by temporarily breaking away to the east of the lead pack, finding more breeze and moving into the poll position. "Basically we were looking at all weather information available and saw more wind to the east," said Kostecki. "We positioned ourselves to take advantage of it and it’s paid off. We also noticed SEB gaining further east and that was a tell-tale sign for us."

While the bulk of the fleet remained virtually glued in place this morning, SEB, still several hundred miles to the east, was holding onto the hope of cashing in it’s get-out-of-jail-free card. The passing lane that they’d been riding in over the last 24 hours briefly ended, but as of the 16:00 GMT position report, SEB was racing south again at 12 knots. At some point, however, skipper Gunnar Krantz and his navigator Marcel van Trieste must turn their bow towards Brazil. It won’t be easy. "Everybody is asking what the hell we are doing out here," said Krantz in an e-mail this morning. "To be totally honest, so are we at times. We have been chasing our own tail for days now. I do not know what the information says to the rest of the fleet, but in a position such as ours, the best escape is to catch the wind that should be in the south and east of us. There simply is no door open for us to go more west, and take my word for it, we have been looking for one."

Onboard Assa Abloy, now fourth, Rudiger, too, spoke of frustration. He was coping with stress with a bit of laughter-his stress management technique. "With the rest of the boats, we were constantly recalculating how much we were ahead or behind. At one point we just had to stop and laugh," he wrote. "Otherwise you would go nuts."

At press time, Assa and Team Tyco-the two westernmost boats-were enjoying similar progress down the track as Amer Sports One. Tyco, however, had jibed away from the pack to set itself up for what is believe to be an impending windshift overnight. All three are maintaining more than 6 knots, going nearly twice as fast as illbruck, seemingly stuck in it’s own hole. Conditions had not improved for either the girls or Knut Frostad’s Djuice Dragons, both of which registered speeds less than 3 knots.

"Around me at the moment are a full stack to leeward/forward," wrote Djuice crewmember Mikael Lundh. "Everything is on station 1 or forward, and I mean everything. I wish that I would hear the nice flow of water down the side of the boat but instead we have the slamming and banging of code zeros and mainsail and the BG instruments are showing 1 knot windspeed. It’s all a big parking lot and we hope that our strategy of going east will pay off. We had the opportunity to go west and catch up over there but decision was east because we are hoping for the famous northeasterly trades."