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Day 200

By Brian Hancock

Looking ahead I see some tricky tactical weather coming to the front runners in the next few days. Right now things are good. The weather is cooling off a little for Pen Duick VI and L’Esprit d’équipe and they are shedding the clutches of tropical air which makes life on board more bearable. They are sailing pretty close to the rhumb line and still enjoying, if that’s the right word, steady northeast trade winds, but in a couple of days things are going to change. The Azores High – it’s called that because most of the year it vacations in the most beautiful islands in the world and has given those Portuguese sailors of old some decent weather most of the year for centuries. I will come back to the Azores in a few but my point is that the Azores High has been taking some pointers from the St Helena High and started to spin off small clusters of high pressure systems. This will give the boats a chance, if they play their cards right, to make big gains, or, perhaps suffer some losses.

The boats are getting weather faxes (probably out of Dakar in Senegal) and they will see what’s going on. It’s not Windy but it’s enough information to make some tactical choices. There are gaps between the ‘spin-offs’ which they can hitch a ride on and make gains, but that won’t happen for a few more days. For now PDVI is romping along at a steady 9.3 knots and covered just under 200 nautical miles in the last 24 hours – not too shabby. L’Esprit d’équipe knocked off 160 miles and are still first in IRC and first in the Flyer Class. They are fighting hard to hold onto their dominant position and the analogy of them holding on like a terrier still stands. We used to have a terrier and once it got its teeth into a piece of old rope we could swing him around a few feet off the ground but he would not let go even if his life depended on it. The French yacht does, however, need to look over their shoulder because the mighty Finns on Spirit of Helsinki are charging along. SOH is a newer version of the Swan 65 and is built for upwind power. They are showing off their strides doing 8.5 knots and covered just under 200 miles. The thing is a beast when it gets a bone in its teeth. I know this for a fact because I sailed the yacht from Northern Finland to the Dominican Republic back in ‘94 as part of a training exercise preparing the Finnish crew (Fazer Finland) for the ‘85/86 Whitbread. We did such a good job training them that they beat us in the race that year.

Translated 9 and Neptune have decided on a route to the west of the rhumb line. They must have sniffed something on the wind that the others have not seen; time will tell. It’s going to be an interesting weekend. The maidens on Maiden seem to have their water situation under control (see I told you that they were resourceful).

I am too much of a gentleman to ask about the toilet paper situation. At last check Heather and her crew had covered 170 miles and were trundling along at 7.6 knots. The outlaws on Outlaw are living up to their name and making tracks right up the rhumb line. They are currently leading the Adventure Class.

Galiana WithSecure are charting their own course (big surprise skipper Tapio Lehtinen has always charted his own course) and are heading along a more westerly route. It looks like they might have eased sheets a little looking to carry more sail and make better speed. It’s a tactical move that could pay dividends down the track a little. Evrika are on the east side of the rhumb line and sailing a joyful race. The two boats to watch are White Shadow and Triana. Only six miles separate them on a distance to finish (DTF) basis with Triana squeaking out a small lead. This is impressive because White Shadow has a longer waterline length and should by all accounts be tromping (nautical term) Triana.

Let’s not forget our South African friends on Sterna. They have probably put their flip-flops away and are settling in to watch back-to-back rugby on their flat screen.

I note on my latest update that Evrika caught a massive (it looks like a Wahoo). It’s fine to have a Friday night fish fry but the Wahoo is a delicate fish that is best turned into sushi or sashimi. Now that’s living and other than the cost of the yacht and fishing tackle it’s a free meal.

Lastly, as the sun dips into the west and I get to enjoy a spectacular sunset from my home in Marblehead (Birthplace of the American Navy) we need not forget Explorer. They are back out in deep water and making good progress.

Just a quick last one. A moment of sympathy for the families whose loved ones went down when the container ship hit the Francis Scott Keys bridge in Baltimore. Those that perished were immigrants filling potholes at 3 in the morning in cold, icy rain. My sympathies. The US is a family of immigrants. I am an immigrant. More on the Azores tomorrow – it’s a good story.

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