A week into this adventure, and I have yet to write about weather, routing and navigation. In no small part, it's no fun to write about misery when you are the one that is miserable.
But that part of the race is over. I am clearing the bottom of the low, skies are clearing a bit, seas are settling and the wind is consistently in the 20's rather than the 30's. Given that a rather stark difference of opinion is probably showing up on your tracker, it makes sense to explain what's going on
This race is always about three parts, and those parts are dictated by a massive pattern of weather that sits over the Atlantic. Winds in the North Atlantic tend to move from west to east, blowing towards Europe and carrying the low pressure systems that we have been pummelled by in the past week. Winds in the equatorial latitudes blow east to west, from northern Africa towards the Caribbean, what are known as the trade winds. And in the middle of this circle of wind are typically one or more high pressure systems, with no wind. In the days of European exploration and colonization of the new world, these were known as the horse latitudes because if ships got caught in these high pressure systems and fell behind schedule the horses they carried would run through all of the food and water. So the horses would have to go. Cruel but pragmatic decisions.
So the RdR three parts are dictated by these meteorological realities. Chapter one is dealing with the westerly winds as you come out of Saint Malo and start to head west. More often than not, these carry lows with them, which was certainly the case this edition where a higher than average of boats were broken or chose to shelter in port.
Chapter two is the puzzle of how to get around or through the high, and Chapter three is the usually pleasant deep spinnaker run through the trade winds to Guadeloupe.
Over 16 years of historical data, the answer is split evenly. A third of the time the answer has been to go over top the high, reach down it its north west corner into the trades and run home.
Another third of the time the answer has been to go under the high on its eastern side. Head south between the Azores and Portugal until you reach the trades, then turn west for a long, deep run. In more recent years as global warming has made the Fall season of lows worse and the northern "over the top" route more brutual, going under has become more favored
The finally, a bit less than a third of the time a straight shot, what is appropriately known as the rhum line, makes the most sense. It is the shortest distance, but for it to work the high(s) have to be unusually far south, or far north, or broken up with gaps between.
This year, the choice seemed clear 4 days ago as we cleared the Channel. The high was forecast to be monolithic and huge, stretching from Bermuda to nearly Africa by the time we got to it. So the Class 40 that survived and was at sea at the time dove south. They footed off a bit for some speed and a more comfortable ride. All very east, all pointed to the trades. A longer ride, but a faster one and seemingly the obvious choice.
Then there was Dragon. On day 4 I took a somewhat inexplicable hitch t the west and worse, the north west. I was giving up ground. Why? Well, on day 4, the reality was that the Euro and USA models still showed a lot of uncertainty and instability on the behavior of the high. They did not agree with each other on any given day, and the did not agree with themselves day over day.
I knew if I just followed the conventional wisdom, it was going to be a parade. I would be on the back foot, losing ground on the reach and then maybe gaining it back on the deep run. By virtue of simply being able to survive the first 4 days I had already achieved what I thought impossible which was to make it into the top 15. But if I wanted to break into the top 10, an incredibly unlikely thing with a 10 year old boat and the quality of sailors I am up against, I needed to do something different. So I took the hitch to the north west.
It was the more direct route, so it paid some immediate dividends by giving me leverage and pulled me up a few places. But what it really does is set me up to take advantage of a very different picture of the high, a high that is now basically broken up into two or three pieces.
That situation means I am planning on going over the high. Continue the relatively short beat to the Azores, then head west for a day in the breeze that will be at the very bottom of a new low, where it meets the high. It means headwinds, yet again, but then Tuesday at some point I should be able to turn south west and slip between two highs.
It's a high risk choice. It's like threading two or three needles, all while riding a bronco. Even now I can picture Jess Sweeney raising her eyebrow at me. But the fact is that both the Euro and the USA models are in full agreement for this patch of ocean until Wednesday, and it has been some time since that has happened.
I have modeled the fleet's outcomes and the reality is that the top 7 have me beat no matter what, short of some teleportation device showing up. I may even drop back 2 or 3 places from the 11th place I have now. But this choice also offers the chance no matter how slim, that I just might squeak into the top 10.
So I hope all of you here at the craps table with me have fun watching me roll the dice.