The countdown to arrival in Cape Town is on and there is a distinct sense of the teams positioning themselves for the final onslaught on the finish line.
In the meantime all the teams appear to have finally been caught by the ridge of high pressure that has been threatening to slow their progress. The boats at the back of the fleet, Cape Breton Island, California and Edinburgh Inspiring Capital, have had the worst of the light winds and that means the distance between leaders and tail enders has stretched out. By tomorrow the next low should reach the fleet and carry them towards Cape Town.
Leaders Cork, Ireland have been consistently eeking out their lead. “The spinnaker is back up and we are reaching on our way into Cape Town,” reports skipper Richie Fearon. “We have slowed down as this weather system passes through today. The wind was light this morning but has picked up again and is starting to veer round already which suits our course. By the end of today the winds should be in a northerly direction and building. All things going well we reckon that we should be in at the earliest on Thursday afternoon.”
Richie's confident prediction will have to take into account the effect of the land mass of the African continent on the air flow. As the 68-foot ocean racers approach their goal the coastal winds will be affected by the land and become lighter and more fickle.
He and his crew will also have to keep an eye on the three teams that are hot on their heels – Uniquely Singapore, Hull & Humber and Team Finland.
Hull & Humber has adopted a slightly more northerly position and the team has proved already proved it can switch into determinedly focused mode and close in on the competition. Just ask Spirit of Australia – they know only too well how it feels to watch the big orange boat surge past in the closing stages of a race.
Hull & Humber's skipper Piers Dudin says, “Our final day in the second low system of our race went down well. It's great to see the individual helms gain in confidence and really drive Hull & Humber maxed out. The conditions below were pitching everything all over the place until this morning when the high pressure ridge slowly won out and rolled over us, bringing breakfast served with no wind! We're looking forward to the shift arriving when we can kite up and go get Uniquely Singapore and Cork!”
The fourth boat in the leading pack is Team Finland, whose skipper Eero Lehitinen asks, “Is this the calm before the final push? Well, not really calm but it almost feels like it after a steady average speed above ten knots for the last couple of days. The light (six to ten knot) breeze alone would be fine but, combined with the nasty swell and chop from all directions, it is potentially lucrative for the sailmakers… or a big headache for us on board! We are desperately trying to get some air into our spinnaker to speed up again as wind is ticking from south to west.
“Another low pressure system is catching up on us from the west and by later today we will be probably changing to heavy kite and later poling out the Yankee as the wind is predicted to reach 35 knots. That means, Cape Town here we come – and fast!
“We are certainly not unhappy about more fast sailing, an extra day in Cape Town sounds like a bargain. We are checking all bits and pieces on board to be sure that we are ready for the power ride. Spinnaker control lines are being serviced, Yankee tack strops and hanks will be inspected to make sure they can take some extra loads. It is the final 1,000 miles to go and we are still reaching for a podium position. Soon we will find out who has suffered more than the others in these light conditions.”
Qingdao's skipper, Chris Stanmore-Major is still hoping some tactical positioning can help his team climb the leader board. The Chinese boat has headed further south in the hope short term pain would lead to long term gain.
This morning he admitted, “Our battle with Spirit of Australia has gone their way and I am not looking forward to opening the schedules to see the latest news. I am sure after the rolling, slatting comedy show that was the midnight watch I am sure the news will not be so good. Time remains, though, and we always knew that we were taking a risk to come down here – gambling one spot to get an angle on two others. We will slowly work our way into a position, I am sure, so we can pounce on Jamaica Lightning Bolt and Team Finland. We have to hope that is not when we are already in the marina.
“The very light winds last night have given us slow progress after the thrills of the surfing and heeling in the past few days. It is colder now and the crew are getting an introduction to what awaits them as we leave Cape Town and head south. Due to our policy of storing sails aft it is still dry below decks and the crew enjoy good sleep when off watch.
“A whale broached directly ahead of us yesterday no more than a boat length off the bow. As hellos go that was pretty impressive – we actually put the wheel down to avoid the white foaming water in case he had misjudged his fly by!”
There has been an overnight change in the positions at the back of the fleet. California has been quietly plugging away at Edinburgh Inspiring Capital and were rewarded last night with a climb from ninth to eighth place.
Matt Pike, Edinburgh Inspiring Capital's skipper, says, “The big swell, spray and constant sail changes were replaced with a quiet night with flat sea and frustratingly little wind. It is slowly building from the northwest and we're ready with the big kite as soon as it starts to blow, full speed to Cape Town.”
The first yachts are expected to arrive at Royal Cape Yacht Club on Friday 13 November.
POSITIONS AT 1200 UTC, SUNDAY 8 NOVEMBER
1 Cork DTF 982
2 Uniquely Singapore DTF 1029 DTL +47
3 Hull & Humber DTF 1051 DTL +69
4 Team Finland DTF 1066 DTL +84
5 Jamaica Lightning Bolt DTF 1130 DTL +149
6 Spirit of Australia DTF 1151 DTL +169
7 Qingdao DTF 1160 DTL +178
8 California DTF 1261 DTL +279
9 Edinburgh Inspiring Capital DTF 1267 DTL +285
10 Cape Breton Island DTF 1451 DTL +469