A gauntlet of thunder clouds packing fresh gale force winds is keeping the teams on their toes as they receive a taste of what lies ahead in the Doldrums.
Teams have been fighting to hold their course against the squalls with gusts nearing 40 knots demanding rapid and radical responses from the sailors.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker reported veering 60 degrees off course in the face of a 38 knot gust.
“It is a real test for the crews who need to rapidly reduce sail as fast as they can and hang on tight until the rain squall passes,’’ Walker said. “It is then a race to get back to full sail as the wind drops away behind the cloud.
“In the day time this is not too bad as you can see the clouds and plot your path through them, but at night it takes on a whole new dimension.”
CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand are approaching the “gauntlet of thunderstorms” with caution, as they are well aware that they cannot afford another hindrance on the race to one of their home ports. After tearing their J2 headsail in half and losing major ground, CAMPER are keen to ensure they suffer no more setbacks.
“These thunder clouds pack a huge amount of power so you have to be constantly monitoring them to get the most out of them and avoid any potential damage, which is not what we need right now,’’ co-skipper Stu Bannatyne said.
Playing the squalls to your advantage is as much a game of luck as it is a science, according to Walker. The Azzam skipper said he and navigator Jules Salter had been regularly watching their radar screen in hope of picking up squalls.
Their attention could reap big rewards, with giant gains and losses to be had.
“It is safe to say we have been getting better at this with practice but there remains a slight element of luck as to which clouds hit you, how hard and when,’’ he said.
“One cloud can make or lose you tens of miles so as the sun goes down over the horizon we will be looking to ride the front edge of as many as we can in the darkness tonight.”