Lonely Out in Space
At 14:00 BST the vast majority of the fleet were in the remotest corner of the North Sea, hundreds of miles from any city and well offshore. The barren coastline of northeast Scotland was the nearest landfall. In essence, they were very much out on their own.
Race leader Groupama had managed to struggle past the light winds around the Isle of Lewis and into fresher north easterly breeze. Getting to the breeze first means that they have opened up an 18 mile lead on rivals Telefónica Azul.
Looking at weather further up the track, the wind speed is due to increase in strength, to as much as 25 knots. Soon enough, the two Volvo Open 70s in the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race will be launched like guided missiles, speeding down the west coast of Ireland
Piet Vroon's Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens has regained the overall lead under IRC from Jonny Malbon's IMOCA 60, Artemis Ocean Racing, which led on handicap overnight. At 14:00 BST, Tonnerre was 27 miles south of Muckle Flugga and is due to round the most northern part of the course at 17:00. The easterly move by the TP52 John Merricks II has failed to pay dividends and they have dropped to sixth overall. This is another boat that revels in downwind surfing conditions and could easily make up the lost time to move up the leaderboard.
Chaz Ivill's Grand Soleil 54, John B is lying second overall and has had close company virtually the whole way around the track - the Clipper 68, Hull & Humber. Besides three professional crew, Hull & Humber are all amateurs with the youngest and most inexperienced crewmember being Josephine O'Hare a 22 year old student who also works as a chef. The oldest on board is Ian March, who is 72 years young: "I did the first Clipper Race back in 1996 and I wanted to take part in this race because it gives a variety of weather and sea conditions and I really love the experience of working together as a team on board," explained Ian.
In IRC One, the Army Sailing Association's A 40, British Soldier has sailed intelligently and is now ahead of Steven Anderson's First 40.7, Encore, but only on the water. Encore still lead the class on handicap. However, a period of light winds is expected and should slow their progress into the night. Many gains are made during the hours of darkness, often simply by staying alert, something that the armed services are trained to do, but that is not to discount Encore. Steven Anderson and his crew are very resilient. Prior to this race, they represented Great Britain in the Rolex Commodores' Cup.
Further back in the fleet, Adrian Lower's Swan 44, Selene continues to shine and leads IRC Two. Selene was 333 miles from Muckle Flugga, but this part of the race course has been experiencing an easterly breeze of 20 knots, which has helped them maintain their position as class leaders.
Although conditions vary across the race course, the strong winds of the first few days have for the moment abated. Although crew will need to maintain concentration levels whilst on watch, when they end their turn on deck, there is the chance to get some proper sleep. This may be in a damp and cramped bunk, but after being put through the mill for the last three days, most of them will be sleeping like newborn babies.