What a tough first week back at the office! Seven days in and leg two has delivered some of the most intense and challenging racing that I’ve seen in all my years of sailing. I said that we wanted to see more close quarters racing in this leg than what we got in the first leg and it has definitely delivered.
As I write this we’ve been sailing neck and neck with Puma for the last 48 hours and Telefonica is just a few miles further back. Since leaving Cape Town we have been racing at a level of intensity more commonly seen in the America’s Cup. Sleep has been at an absolute minimum and sail changes endless. The guys are all absolutely exhausted and I think it’s a real testament to them that they continue to give it 110% day in and day out.
Perhaps the defining feature of this first week has been the dominant weather trough that has held the entire fleet in its grip, and our attempts to escape it and get into the consistent northerly breezes that should rocket us up the Indian Ocean. After 4 days of extremely frustrating conditions of light, shifty winds we have just managed to break free of the trough line and are now beginning to enjoy better sailing.
It’s hard to describe just how difficult it has been to get out from under this trough but as it’s travelling at about 14 knots in the same direction as we want to go once you’re in it’s like hitting a brick wall. The only way we were able to pass it was when it slowed down allowing us to accelerate away.
After four days of this nautical torture it’s a relief to be finally out of the system and once we navigated a relatively small ridge of high pressure to be able to tack and start heading towards our destination in some decent pressure.
With all boats now out of the trough we’ve effectively seen a restart of the leg with Sanya and Groupama respectively choosing to take flyers to the west and east of the fleet. For us, Puma, Telefonica and Abu Dhabi fighting it out in the middle ground it’s now battle on to see who can get north in the best shape.
There’s no doubt that Sanya and Groupama’s tactics are high-risk, high-reward. Sanya is going to have a lot of heavy air and the challenge of the exclusion zone to deal with, while Groupama has a lot of light air to contend with. Only time will tell who has got it right but I’m pretty comfortable with where we are at.
There’s an awful lot of this race left to go in some pretty challenging conditions including a doldrums crossing so there’s plenty left to play out. With ten or eleven days or racing at least still ahead of us who knows exactly what will happen.
There’s every chance that the leg may not be decided until the last few hundred miles which means even more sleepless nights for us over coming days and weeks.
I’m thinking Christmas might not be much fun this year….