Leading the fleet in the wake of tropical storm Alberto

Atlantic storm

Last night was tough, in fact some of the worst we’ve seen in the entire
race. After we left Charleston we received a warning of an approaching
tropical storm with winds potentially up to 55knots, the night was
approaching and we had already reduced sail to 3 reefs and the staysail…
we had a tough decision to make, keep going and cross the path of the
tropical storm or head inshore and hopefully avoid the worst of the winds.
The question played in my mind over and over, the sea state was
deteriorating very fast and i had to chose among the lesser of two evils,
stronger winds offshore or the risk of breaking waves in shallow waters
inshore.
I decided to head offshore as i thought in big winds i could always ride
the storm with plenty of room towards the south, but once in shallow
waters it would have become difficult to get out of the waves. There was
one more complication, the timing of the storm was crucial, if we had
reached the gulf stream, which flows to the north-east, against the full
blow of storm the seas could become horrendous: wind against tide makes
for very steep dangerous breaking waves.
The wind built to a peak of steady 40 knots but we had occasional gusts of
nearly 50 knots. We wanted to preserve the boat and avoid damage so as the
storm worsened we kept sailing lower or even occasionally downwind.
We monitored the progress of the rest of the fleet and they didnt seem to
be doing much better on the other tack so we kept going offshore hoping
the storm would subside before the gulf stream but leaving us in its
strong flow in the aftermath with a chanche to make big gains on the
others. Luckily the timing was just right, as we reached the warm flow of
the gulf stream the winds had dropped below 30 knots and although the seas
were very confused they were not dangerous, only occasionally a wave came
right in our path and we lept in the air and fell like no more than a
little dinghy being dragged in the surf.
Today the wind kept decreasing and the seas calming down, everything is
back to normal and we are now dealing with the opposite problem, lack of
wind. The forecast is for very light airs for the next 24-36 hours which
will make for some further interesting tactical decision.
I cant deny that last night, during the worst, only a very very small part
of me was thinking about the race, we were simply making sure we’d get
through the blow with no damage but i’m glad i stuck to my guns and headed
towards the gulf stream.
We had done a very conservative start inside Charleston Harbour, I wasnt
sure what winds to expect on our way out and I didnt want to have any
problems whilst sailing in the narrow channel through the breakwaters, the
result was however that by the time we were in clear waters we were last
and as in every single leg of the race chasing Cessna and Phesheya who
seem to always start well.
As I write we are leading over Cessna by 33 miles and over the duo of
Sec.Hayai and Phesheya by nearly 50 miles, I’m very glad we reversed the
early fortunes. The race is still long, over 3400 miles to go and just as
we gained this lead we can lose it, in a couple of days we should have
excellent reaching conditions, Cessna’s favourite, and my bet is they will
burn these few miles in no time. Meantime let’s enjoy the the gentle
afternoon wind, the pleasant breeze and the momentary lead in the Global
Ocean Race, it’s only the second time we’re in this position and we are
really happy with the work done so far and to have emerged with everything
functioning and all in one piece.
There are many people I need to thank for the excellent time we spent in
Charleston, and others who have helped me behind the scenes with my
endless luck of funds, I will write a separate blog later, now it’s time
for some supper and chance to recuperate some of the lost energies.

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