It’s gut check day for the AAOT. The wheels are off the wagon and it’s time for us to double up on the tough stuff out here. The past 24 hours have been hard on Vanquish. Jan and Molly spent all night feeding buckets of salty aqua to the watermaker because the scoop is too high at our present angle of heel. The door to the head was taken clean off its hinges earlier this morning (unnamed assailant), which will prove to be a real exercise in team bonding. There’s a winter hat thief running rampant when times are at their coldest. My cameras will not dry. The sun will not show. Everyone looks tired (someone was asked if they had a black eye) and it “feels like day 36.” Maybe worst of all, we’re fresh out of candy. One weather model suggested we’d get to Lizard Point in 10 days.
Thankfully that’s not going to happen, we’re all pretty sure of that, but how bad it’s going to get is really anybody’s guess. Navigator Chris Branning has worked hard to put us in a great spot up here, and we’ve sailed a really good race to this point, but we could fall victim to circumstance (Annapolis to Newport de-ja-vu) as we sail head first into the unavoidable ridge of high-pressure sitting between us and the finish.
We have the German youth entry dead ahead, 45 miles to our east and sailing upwind on the same heading. It will be fun to get around them and give a hearty wave, but we’re racing and that’s about as much courtesy as we might extend! We’ve also managed to shave 100-plus miles off Beau Geste in the past 24 hours, but they’re back up to speed now and will be exiting the high-pressure zone just as we enter it. That happens in about 5 hours or so, and after that our success is really a matter of good fortune.
Best case scenario, the upwind conditions we have now dissipate, as does the low-pressure trough to our northwest, propelling us through the high relatively unscathed, and we stay on pace with our competitors and reach straight towards England in a strong southerly, arriving in 3-4 days. Worst case scenario, the trough wedges us between the low and the high, which widens at our latitude, and we wallow for days while everyone ahead and to the south sails home. That model puts us into England in 5-6 days time. In reality, it’s probably not going to be one or the other, but a combination of the two. We expect most of the fleet to the south to sail through the high before we get out, but it’s an unfortunate reality we have to accept. We will continue to push through on our heading and hope the ridge is a) not as wide as it looks, and b) not as light as at looks.
If we were ever going to fold it’d be now, but spirits remain high and most (I can speak for myself) find gleeful humor in such times. Everyone is laughing in relative misery, which is always a good sign, and our team chemistry only strengthens through the tougher times.
Tomorrow’s report will feature part one of our Oakcliff All-American Offshore Team “sailor survey.” Stay tuned for some insider info.