Dee Caffari’s crew set themselves up as the most easterly boat as the seven-strong fleet climb up the coast of Brazil bound for the finish in Newport, USA, some 4,000 miles away.
Caffari and Turn the Tide on Plastic navigator Nico Lunven gambled that being furthest east would yield results with better breeze giving them a boost on their rivals. And as Leg 8 approached its sixth day their tactics seemed to have paid off as they edged out a lead of more than 11 miles on former leg leaders Vestas 11th Hour Racing.
Despite their gains it has been anything but plain sailing for Turn the Tide on Plastic as they try to dodge the huge South Atlantic clouds threatening to slow their progress north.
“We have reached the point where we can ease the sheets and sail faster, however the clouds have a different idea,” Caffari said. “Last night we spent about eight hours under a cloud with the pressure changing all the time, the wind direction shifting all the time and it constantly raining.
“Endless sail changes relied on the crew being up for most of it and so there was very little sleep to be had. Even now we have cleared the monster clouds we have constant clouds rolling through. Some big some small, all with a wind pressure change, all with a slight wind shift and some with some precipitation. We have made a sail plan choice that allows us to make good progress when we are in real wind and able to adjust to the changes when we are facing yet another cloud.
“We now just need to keep trying to go fast in the right direction. Not always easy when yet another cloud is trying to make you wait for the others to overtake.”
Challenges aside, the mood onboard Turn the Tide on Plastic remains high.
“We’re leading right now which is fantastic,” Italian crewmember Francesca Clapcich said. “We’re sailing a really solid leg – we just have to keep doing what we’re doing for another two weeks!”
The frontrunners aren’t the only ones suffering in the unstable weather brought about by the cloud activity.
With winds rocketing from less than 10 knots to 30 in a matter of minutes the chasing pack are just as susceptible to being caught out.
“There’s a lot of hot air where we are, and a lot of energy being created,” said Rob Greenhalgh, helmsman on sixth-placed MAPFRE. “These clouds pop up all over the place and they’re massive. “Hopefully we’re through the worst of it now. The forecast for the next 48 hours is for lifting breeze and slightly faster angles.”
At 1300 UTC MAPFRE were trailing Turn the Tide on Plastic by 48 miles but were the fastest boat in the fleet, making 16.2 knots.
“We’re in not too bad a shape but Turn the Tide are pushing forward and will continue to do so,” Greenhalgh added. “Hopefully things then change a bit and we can start getting back into them.”
Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag were today paying the price for being the most westerly boat, slipping to almost 50 miles behind the frontrunners.
The race tracker is currently live and will remain so for another 24 hours, allowing race fans to live out the battle for Leg 8 in real time.
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