Team Blog – Ian Walker – 31st May 2012

Thursday, 31 May 2012 | by ADOR

After a tense night in light winds we seem to be poking our way through the high pressure ridge into better wind but I am not taking anything for granted yet. These features can have a habit of swallowing you back up. It is not really any clearer which of the boats will emerge in the strongest position. We may currently be closest to Lisbon but the boats to the south will have a better angle of wind all the way in.

Everything has been calm onboard and much less intense than expected. The ridge heralded a dying breeze and very gradual windshift to the left. We never actually stopped in no wind but came close on two occasions. We tacked three times and that was that. It appears that we now have to contend with a fairly light wind run to Lisbon including what could be a very tricky finish at night in the River Tejo. This could test everybody’s nerves – especially at night and against the current – hopefully our local knowledge there will come in handy.

Everyone onboard Azzam is fully focused on trimming, steering and stacking as well as we can. Each 3 hourly position report is eagerly awaited with both anticipation and fear! It is certainly nice to be in contention in the last few hundred miles of a leg and no more than this team deserves.

date: Thursday, 31 May 2012 12:45:14 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana– 30th May 2012

Wednesday, 30 May 2012 | by ADOR

The barometer is climbing fast and steadily as we sail out of the frontal line that has given us speed for the past three days. From here, the breeze will moderate along with the sea state and we will begin to feel the effects of the high-pressure ridge in about 200 miles time. Forecasts are showing that the ridge could produce at least 12+ hours off near drifting conditions until we are able to pop through the other side into the northerlies. I imagine this will be a mind-bending experience as we either watch our lead extend or slip away.

In the last hour the breeze has dropped and headed slightly. During the watch change we peeled from the G1 to the fractional zero and are now sailing a slightly lower and faster course. The latest scheds are still showing that the boats furthest back are making the bigger gains on us, which really only proves how fast we are sailing out of this front. Fortunately, we have managed to keep the angry kitty (Puma) at bay and still hold a small buffer zone of 30+ miles.

The fire in team morale still burns strong. Jules and Ian have been non-stop with performance analysis and weather updates. Since we are being chased by what feels like a pack of dogs (and one cat), the general theme has been to sail the fastest angle possible. So the boys have been really pushing Azzam for the 36 hours. Hopefully it will have been enough to give us an advantage when we hit the ridge off Portugal.

date: Wednesday, 30 May 2012 14:48:49 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 29th May 2012

Tuesday, 29 May 2012 | by ADOR

As predicted our lead is rapidly vanishing before our eyes. The fact that we knew this would happen means we are all calm about it and remain fully focused on what lies ahead. It is business as usual onboard and we have learnt not to let large losses at every position report affect our mood. There is quite simply nothing we can do about it if the boats behind bring 3 or more knots more wind up into the back of you. Sooner or later they will get close enough to be in more similar wind and then we have to hope we can compete. By then I suspect the wind will be very light and it could be anyone’s game.

One good thing is the sailing conditions are very easy indeed. Fast angles, smooth seas and not too many sail changes. We are approaching 1000 miles to go and our plan is to rest people up while the going is easy so that we have fully charged batteries for what will certainly be a frantic last 36 hours. If that means everyone on deck then so be it – there will be time to rest in Lisbon. If anybody in Miami had offered us a 1 mile lead with 1000 miles to go we would have gladly taken it. We may have lost 60 miles in 24 hours to the chasing pack today but we remain closest to Lisbon and we hope to be for some time yet.

date: Tuesday, 29 May 2012 11:59:47 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 28th May 2012

Monday, 28 May 2012 | by ADOR

As the fleet charges east at ever increasing speeds towards Lisbon we know that it is highly likely that we may have to give up a lot of our 90 mile lead to the chasing pack. I am not being defeatist, just preparing myself mentally for the fact that those behind will have more wind than us due to the advancing cold front picking everyone up from behind. More windspeed equals more boatspeed at these wind angles so the guys behind will certainly gain.

The big question is at what rate will they gain and do we have enough of a lead to hang on for two days until we enter the light air band 300 miles from Lisbon. All we can do is sail as fast as possible and hope that the wind field evens up as the boats get closer together. We need to try and minimize our losses as best we can and position ourselves well for the final section of the race. One thing for certain is that there is going to be a very tight finish from first to last place in Lisbon. The weather gods have scripted that.

So far we have sailed a very good leg and everyone onboard is fiercely determined to defend our lead for as long we possibly can.

date: Monday, 28 May 2012 15:29:09 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 26th May 2012

Saturday, 26 May 2012 | by ADOR

It’s been a great 24 hours for Azzam. A big dilemma between sailing for the predicted right hand shift and going left to get in the Gulf Stream created a big split in the fleet and lots of opportunity. This is exactly what we need as we can get away from the other boats and try to find something tactically. Jules did a nice job as we initially tried to play the current but on finding it wasn’t as forecasted we decided to take the shift instead.

Camper and ourselves went East and made nice gains which we managed to cash in by tacking north and getting the last of the current. Anyway that is all history as we now have to escape round the bottom of the advancing high pressure in order to get into building and lifting winds to the east. This should be an ideal scenario for the lead boats to stretch ahead but right now as we sit wallowing in 4 knots of wind it doesn’t feel that way! A couple of things are certain however. Firstly we have exceeded our intention of containing our losses in the last upwind section we should have in the leg and secondly it feels good to be in the lead and pointing towards Lisbon with less than 2000 miles to go.

There is a lot of racing left including the hole we currently sit in and a huge park up likely before the finish but it is important to enjoy the good times while you can.

date: Saturday, 26 May 2012 17:46:54 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 25th May 2012

Friday, 25 May 2012 | by ADOR

There haven’t been that many occasions in this race when we have been able to look forward to the three hourly position reports but the last 12 hours has been an exception. The light air reaching has been a condition where we seem to be able to hold our own against our rivals and our move to the north has paid handsome dividends.

To be fair to Telefonica and Groupama - who look like they will be the biggest losers in the short term - it was a classic case of the fleet turning inside out. The leaders further east could still potentially connect with westerly winds around the Azores High, whilst those further back had little chance to do so and the northerly option was far more open. As things evolved everyone had to turn north and those behind that went first gained the most.

So right now we are in a good race with Camper and Puma for the lead, although as the wind has gone forward of the beam so their performance has increased relative to ours. They are breathing down our necks – one pulling bearing to leeward and one climbing up behind us. The next day will be tough for us upwind but with the Gulf Stream to play and some big shifts approaching positioning could be crucial. Somehow we need to hang in for the next 24 hours when conditions will once again open up and the fast downwind sail towards Lisbon will begin.

Life changes very little onboard Azzam whether we are in first or last. The routines stay the same as does the work rate but I can honestly say it is much more fun being in the lead this morning – long may it last!

date: Friday, 25 May 2012 15:12:30 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 23rd May 2012

Wednesday, 23 May 2012 | by ADOR

It has been a very good 36 hours for the team on Azzam. Our move to the north paid good dividends and for a while we were in sight of Telefonica and took third place in the standings from Puma. Sadly Telefonica have again demonstrated their pace to us by sailing away from four miles in front of us to 22 miles in the last 24 hours. Once again we will have to be patient and hope that an opening happens later in the leg for us to get back at them.

The fleet remains closely packed and is now almost lined up north – south as we push our way east about 100 miles north of Bermuda. The weather still looks quite complicated but in general it sees us sailing due east at least into mid – Atlantic. You will hear no complaints about this by those onboard. Due east means a more direct, shorter route and it also means a far warmer route than the more common paths up past the ice gates in the north.

Right now it is daybreak and we have beautiful sailing conditions. We are spinnaker running in 16 knots of wind and a fairly tame sea state. All is well onboard and everybody has rested up after the exertions of Alberta. It looks like a day or two of drag racing before the weather throws the next curve ball our way.

date: Wednesday, 23 May 2012 15:14:13 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 22nd May 2012

Tuesday, 22 May 2012 | by ADOR

What a day! The whole fleet, with the exception of Groupama, was caught out when the tropical depression Alberta changed course and moved south east over the top of us. We were trying to ride the windshift and extra wind just to the south of it but a violent windshift headed us straight into the eye of the storm. There then followed a chaotic 12 hour period as we ended up on the wrong side of it beating upwind in 35 knots. All of a sudden instead of a fast ride east to the storm’s south we were right in it and in survival mode with three reefs and a heavy weather jib. We came off some terrible waves but most worrying of all was the lightning.

The lightning was crashing all around right down to the water and it didn’t seem possible our carbon mast could avoid a direct strike. Nevertheless we escaped as we managed to sail back on ourselves to the favoured side and eventually again get on our way. Groupama outsmarted everyone by gybing earlier and staying away from Alberta and cashed in a 70 mile lead. Thankfully things have settled down now and after an entire day of seemingly non-stop sail changes we are now enjoying smoother water and steadier winds.

Everyone is tired as it has needed pretty much all hands on deck all day long. To make things worse we have a couple of bad backs onboard that are suffering and one of us took a fairly hard blow to the head when he got washed back off the foredeck. Right now the priority is to get some food and drink into everyone, get people rested and continue the gains we have made in the last few hours. What was billed as a nice easy Atlantic crossing on initial forecasts has so far turned out to be anything but!

date: Tuesday, 22 May 2012 09:31:34 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 21st May 2012

Monday, 21 May 2012 | by ADOR

Our good Miami form continued with a fairly clinical restart. It was light, shifty and with a lot of current but we made the best of it with a nice start and an aggressive move out towards the Gulf Stream. Unfortunately we got a big plastic bag wrapped on the keel on the 2nd lap which slowed us and almost enabled Groupama to pass us returning to the gate. In the end Craig dived over the side as we tacked to clean the keel and we were on our way at full speed again.

As we head north with 4 knots of Gulf Stream current underneath us it is starting to get bumpy. The faster boats have already ground us down and passed us and just like before it seems that Telefonica is the most potent of them all upwind. We are expecting a light air transition into westerly winds soon which will hopefully mean the start of a long period of downwind sailing. At the moment the forecast looks good with a very direct route that shouldn’t challenge the ice gates in the north too much.

As always things can change quickly in the North Atlantic and with Tropical Storm Alberta not far north of us we will remain on our guard. Now it is time to settle into our first night at sea and once again try to find Azzam’s rhythm.

date: Monday, 21 May 2012 11:40:34 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 20th May 2012

Sunday, 20 May 2012 | by ADOR

What a fantastic result yesterday in the Miami In-Port Race. It was a crazy race but thanks to some good calls by Jules and some special crew work by the lads we managed to come out on top. This meant so much to me because it showed how strong the team remains and how determined we are to keep doing our best in this race. Our two days of training really paid off. Whilst it is one thing to do well inshore our real goal is to get on the podium offshore. Today is another day and now it is time to concentrate on leg 7 to Lisbon.

The weather look pretty strange for the first few days and then the downwind ride to Lisbon should kick in. Personally I can’t wait for the race to return to Europe and especially to the waters where we carried out all our pre race training. Miami remains a lucky venue for me and Abu Dhabi Ocean racing can leave with smiles on their faces.

date: Sunday, 20 May 2012 19:56:12 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana– 10th May 2012

Thursday, 10 May 2012 | by ADOR

Just under 30 miles left in the leg for us aboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Azzam. Minutes ago we tacked several hundred metres off Fort Lauderdale beach and are now heading south to the finish in Miami. The entire crew is awake and staring at the glow of civilization. Some are hungry and continue to eat freeze dried, while others have different food on their mind already and are holding out.

We managed a pretty easy Gulf Stream crossing. Considering we were beating across the massive current stream, 30 miles north is not too bad. “The breeze has died down considerable since we reached the other side. The moon is out and we are having a nice sail down the coast to Miami. Very happy to be in America” explains Wade Morgan. As of right now, the router has us finishing in roughly two hours – about an hour before sunrise local time. “I haven’t been back here for a while, but I do very much enjoy Miami and look forward to spending a nice week off here” says Rob Greenhalgh.

Some of the crew will be staying put in Miami, while others will return home to see their families. We are all back at work on Tuesday and will be determined to change our luck in the next leg across the Atlantic. Until then, we will all enjoy some nice R & R in the land of the free.

date: Thursday, 10 May 2012 11:06:15 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana– 9th May 2012

Wednesday, 09 May 2012 | by ADOR

It was a slow day today, but thankfully no park ups. We managed to just keep Azzam rolling along above 3 or 4 knots boat speed for most the morning, and then above 6 or 7 for the afternoon. Gybing every so often kept us from turning to stone from boredom. As the night has progressed the pressure has increased. We are now in 9 knots of breeze with just under 100 hundred miles to the first waypoint of the Bahamas. Puma has just rounded and are reaching west towards Miami in 14 knots of wind and continuing to extend on the fleet. With any luck we will hook into that breeze in the next few hours as well.

It was an interesting day watching Telefonica and Groupama splitting Little Salvador Island and facing very different wind direction and pressure. Ultimately Groupama lost a bit to Telefonica, but it was a creative move nonetheless. When we were not watching the position reports, which are now every hour, we were either sleeping or discussing food. What food we will eat when we get in, what food we want for the next leg, even which country has the best food. No one could agree on anything except hamburgers when we arrive in Miami. Until then however, we will keep the pressure on Groupama and Telefonica from our distance. The pressure should build the longer we are out here, so perhaps we will come flying up from behind and make it a tight finish.

date: Wednesday, 09 May 2012 12:05:30 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 8th May 2012

Tuesday, 08 May 2012 | by ADOR

The mental torture of this leg continues. After our gamble to split from Groupama at the Turks and Caicos Islands dealt us heavy losses these have been compounded by an inability to get west and escape the clutches of the high pressure. Without a wind angle that allows us to sail west without going back on ourselves we have had no way to sail towards the stronger winds in that direction.

The inevitable losses are piling up and will worsen until we finally have an angle to gybe back on to starboard later today. Salvation should come in the form of more wind tonight but any hope of gaining on other boats has all but gone. The teams focus right now is on getting to Miami as quickly as we can (as always) and trying not to let the race situation change how we sail.

Thinking of anything is better than thinking about food right now, but as the wind drops and the ETA worsens the reality of a final day without food deepens. Today we have our last daily food bag after skipping one yesterday, but tomorrow will just be the dregs of any freeze dried we have saved up. Not a crisis by any stretch and all part of trying to be as competitive as we can be in the light air and downwind conditions of this leg. It will just make the food in Miami taste even better.

date: Tuesday, 08 May 2012 21:27:43 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 7th May 2012

Monday, 07 May 2012 | by ADOR

It is another fantastic night to be sailing. Light winds, smooth seas and the brightest full moon I have ever seen (in fact the closest the moon has been to Earth for 18 years). We are currently in sight of the lights of Cockburn Town in the Turks and Caicos Islands and we are desperately trying to keep as far west as we can to avoid a large area of light winds.

As always the islands have been right in the way of where we wanted to go but it has at least enabled us to split away from Groupama. They have opted for the Western side which should mean more wind but probably a longer route, leaving us the Eastern side. It is certainly more fun separating from them than following in their wake. The fleet is compressing as the leaders sail into light winds first which should add to the drama as the leg finish approaches.

Our food rationing has been pretty successful so far so we have enough freeze dried food for Tuesday. We skipped our day bag of treats and other supplies yesterday and will skip it again tomorrow so that Tuesday can be a relatively normal day. From then on we are all out so that should motivate us to finish fast. I only hope we have put aside enough coffee for Justin or there will be hell to pay!

date: Monday, 07 May 2012 20:15:21 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana– 7th May 2012

Monday, 07 May 2012 | by ADOR

It was a fine day for Caribbean yachting today - blue sky, good wind and not too hot. Fortunately for us, the wind was a bit stronger the further back in the pack you were, so we made some solid gains on both Groupama and the leaders. As of the latest weather grib file the west is looking best. The high pressure that we’ve been worried about for days now has begun to settle further south then we had originally expected. Therefore our projected course lands us in drifting conditions in roughly twelve hours.

Groupama seems to have made their call to head more south and west. Currently we have split the island of West Caicos with them, us to the North and the French to the south. However there is still a possibility that we will gybe southwest after passing the island and search for better wind and a better route through the Bahamian Islands. “Firstly, we want to keep all the crew playing nicely with each other. Next, we will look for any light and variable conditions and try to get west. It’s important that we look big picture, but we must be conscious of how our immediate conditions can help us” explains Jules Salter.

Keeping the crew playing nicely however, might be the more difficult task of the two. Our day bags have now officially run out, and we are now running on rations. “We have plenty of freeze-dried meals for the next few days. Snacks will be a bit light on, so tempers will definitely flare. As long as we are not drifting we should be just fine. But if the wind does decide to drop out, I suspect things will get very interesting onboard” explains Rob Greenhalgh.

date: Monday, 07 May 2012 20:13:10 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana– 6th May 2012

Sunday, 06 May 2012 | by ADOR

The drag race to the Bahamas continues. Right now we are passing Puerto Rico just 80 miles to the north under a very bright “super moon”. The entire fleet is sprinting towards the next set of islands in the Bahamas that we will have to observe according to race rule before our final approach into Miami. We have had a good run over the last 6-8 hours as the wind built considerable around night fall and has just begin to soften again in the early hours of the morning.

Groupama has made steady gains on us over the last few scheds, averaging about three miles further in the last three. As usual we are feeling a bit unlucky, as the pressure seems slightly more solid and lifted ahead of us. “It’s important that we don’t get consumed with each sched. With just under 900 miles to go, there are still some opportunities to steal fourth place. The leading pack may be difficult to reign in at this point, but Groupama is very much in our sites,” explains Simon Fisher.

In celebration of Cinco de Mayo on board Azzam yesterday, a handful of us tried to eat most if not all of our food inside a tortilla wrap. This was not only a bad idea and lacking any real relevance to the Mexican culture, but a horrible way to eat food in which, after today, there will be no more of. Thus we have decided to put aside today’s day bag one day further. Our router has us now in on Wednesday morning local time. Our supplies look to be sufficient to make it at least until Thursday if needed. Nevertheless food still reigns supreme as topic of choice in almost all conversations.

date: Sunday, 06 May 2012 14:02:55 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana– 5th May 2012

Saturday, 05 May 2012 | by ADOR

Just ten miles separates us from Groupama at the minute as they cross directly in front of us on port gybe. Looking at the latest sched, the breeze ahead looks to be slightly more lifted with less pressure. While both us and Groupama have been slowly taking miles out of the leaders, (nearly 15 miles in the most recent position report) the closer we get the harder it will become to make such gains. “I suspect that we will start to see our pressure decrease as the morning progresses. The lead boats already have half the breeze we do, and we are approaching their line quite quickly,” explains Rob Greenhalgh.

In past twenty-four hours the compression of the fleet has seemed to breathe new life into our crew. Now several sets of eyes are transfixed to the nav computers as the new position reports are received and overlaid onto the charts. A constant buzz of commentary from the bunks surrounding the nav station has created quite a stir in the usually placid sleeping environment. “It’s a good feeling on board right now. We’re almost at the point where it’s anyone’s game. Going south instead of north around a tiny Caribbean island could be a complete game changer in these conditions,” explains Paul Willcox. “We’re just hoping we can hang onto our slightly stronger pressure for a bit longer to put us within striking distance of the lead pack.”

date: Saturday, 05 May 2012 19:22:12 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Nick Dana– 3rd May 2012

Thursday, 03 May 2012 | by ADOR

We are just managing to hold on to our distance from the leaders. Although over the last two scheds we have been leaking miles, we were able to make a few up during the early hours of the night. “Groupama is still our target at the moment. We will try and stem the losses to the lead pack as best we can, but we are concentrated on staying tight with Groupama” explains Rob Greenhalgh. Over the last 4 hours we have averaged around 20 – 21 knots of boat speed and have been on a slightly lower heading then the French. Our next waypoint is the Island of Antigua, which roughly bears 335 at a range of 550 miles. Trinidad and Tobago lie directly west of us on nearly the same latitude roughly 360 miles away.

Today was a positive day in our food management program. We managed to put aside yet another meal (a good one for a change) and complete freeze-dried rationing that will see us happily through Thursday of next week. Now each day I will continue to put aside a few bars and half a daily nut ration for the extended days. Everyone seems comfortable enough with this plan for the time being.

Power wise, we looked to be just fine. Bubs dipped the fuel tank earlier and we should have enough to last us until Tuesday without conserving power, and Thursday if we do ration power. Now all we need is the Bermuda high-pressure system to cooperate and move further north. This will allow light easterly trades through the Bahamian Islands and will shave off a day or so of wallowing in sub 10 knots drifting conditions.

“We know that there will be a park up at some point in the Caribbean. So it is up to us to be in the right place at the right time to make our gain on the fleet and / or Groupama.” Anthony Nossiter “Unfortunately the scheds haven’t been going our way for the last few hours, hopefully we can come good in the last few hours of this stronger breeze.” Adil Khalid

date: Thursday, 03 May 2012 14:44:48 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 2nd May 2012

Wednesday, 02 May 2012 | by ADOR

Another fantastic night sail last night as we cleared the Doldrums and set off blasting across the trades with the spinnaker up. How often do you get to sail boats as fantastic as these at their fastest angle for 2000 miles downwind dressed in shorts and T shirt? ‘Not very’ is the answer! The race is developing into two great battles. Puma, Telefonica and Camper at the head of the pack and ourselves neck and neck with Groupama.

Groupama have sailed up high overnight and gained some bearing on us but we are happy to have some distance between the boats at this stage. Being further south will hurt in the short term but maybe it will be an advantage in a couple of days time. The weather ahead looks very mixed and there still remains every possibility that the fleet will park up in light wind between here and Miami.

Until then we need to try to stay as close as we can to the lead pack and hope something opens up for us. In other news, it s a great disappointment that we haven’t had any rain yet. There are 11 very smelly men onboard Azzam desperately in need of a shower and the shower gel has been on deck in readiness for days. Conversation onboard is fixed largely on the ETA into Miami which is fluctuating by up to 48 hours, food rationing and whether we will run out of diesel or not. I am confident we will be alright on all fronts but we are in ‘power save’ mode and the already sparse daily rations have been thinned down a bit more to create some food for Tuesday and Wednesday. At least we can be confident there will be no shortage of food in Miami!

date: Wednesday, 02 May 2012 15:01:47 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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Team Blog – Ian Walker – 1st May 2012

Tuesday, 01 May 2012 | by ADOR

Our proximity to the Equator is providing some cloud cover and relief from the blazing heat of the last few days. It is also providing wildly shifting winds of variable windstrength. Over night the leaders got parked in no wind which enabled us to recover some previous losses but this is no time to celebrate as we have to pass through the same patch water soon and it won’t be long before the leaders will be out of the Doldrums and into the trade winds.

The last few days have been mysterious as we seem to be plagued by lighter winds than our rivals – it seems hardly possible that this can be true on every position report – especially as the fleet is all in a line - but that is what has happened. Groupama have been chipping away at our lead over them by bringing in these stronger winds and if we do not stop the losses soon they will be in sight. Everything onboard is running smoothly in what have been very easy conditions thus far. Everyone is looking forward to getting into the trade winds today (hopefully) and knocking down the miles to Miami.

date: Tuesday, 01 May 2012 15:27:18 (Arabian Standard Time, UTC+04:00)

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