ife has finally slowed down. The wind speed dropped below 10 kts
for the first time since we left the Chesapeake Bay. There is a
small high bubble that has caught the fleet from the west and
slowed the boats as it rolled over them. This has allowed the
leaders to stretch out, but as the wind fills in from behind the
fleet should compress again.
It is interesting to see how the
navigators play this. Each, using weather information, have
positioned their boats in a north-south line to take best
advantage of the forecast breeze that will fill in after the
high. All bets have been laid and the die are about to be rolled
the next few scheds will be interesting.
The nav station is the brain of an ocean-racing yacht; all
decisions, based on forecast weather, are made here. It doesn't
matter how fast your boat is, if you are not in the right weather
system, there is no way you can win the race.
On EF Language, our nav station is situated under the mainsheet
pod, where the mainsheet winch sits. On the aft face, just above
the cockpit floor, is a small hatch. This hatch is the main avenue
of communication between those on deck and the navigator, Mark
Rudiger, or our skipper, Paul Cayard.
A conversation will start, "Rudi", followed by a long pause.
"What?!" uttered in an annoyed tone.
Then will follow one of the usual questions that start when we've
heard the same story about someone's ex girlfriend for the second
time that watch and the hundredth time this Whitbread.
"What's the bearing to Verne?"
"Why has the wind shifted 5 degrees?"
"How fast did we go that last sched?"
"How far is Merit ahead, and did we gain?"
And of course his favourite, "How far to the finish?"
There will be some grunted comment about how he's got work to do
and then the answer will follow.
Now, all of us know that navigators sit in the nav station with
their two computers running, one has a CD playing, the other has a
good game of Solitaire.
Well, not exactly. Each day there are weather faxes to collect and
analyse. These each come from the countries surrounding the area
you're sailing in and they never agree.
This leg we get maps from
the US, Dutch, English and sometimes Canadian met services. Each has
to be analysed, summarised, and then compared. Next, a real-time
satellite picture is collected from our satellite receiver and
compared with the maps. Out of this and the current wind speed and
direction, and the course to the next way point, the course to be
sailed that day is decided on.
Rudi then discusses this with Paul who biases the course by where the fleet is and how he wants to set up against them. This information is then passed to us on deck,
who try our best to execute these instructions.
This is a lot simpler than what takes place because there are a
lot of other tools that are used. The barometer is read, the sea and
air temperatures taken, and sometimes Rudi looks out the hatch. The
two computers are used to "route" the boat based on all this
information and the historical boat speed at a given wind speed
and angle, or "polars". Then, if there is time left after sleeping,
eating and sail changes, I guess Rudi might play Solitaire.
This is repeated every time new information is received or
something changes, which is most of the time on board EF Language.
I know I'll be kicked out of here soon, there is a sched
coming. You get a different view on Whitbread sailing looking out
the hatch instead of looking in.
Since I'm here I may as well look for myself the router says 1,352
miles left to La Rochelle. We will gybe in 19 hrs and the wind will
next be over 10 kts at 4.30 pm tomorrow afternoon. That wasn't so
hard. I don't know why he doesn't answer our frequent questions