Leg 7 begins on the west coast of America as you head back out into the Pacific Ocean. While California and the Baja slip by to port, the talk will be of tactics; inshore or offshore? The inshore current can give a decent ride but, with the land close by, fickle winds affected by night and day temperatures can provide an unpredictable breeze. Further offshore, the current can’t help you but more consistent winds can. A poor tactical decision could cost you the race, even at this early stage.
Whatever the decision, the charge south will be a swift one, to begin with. To make life more difficult, the further south you go, the more fluky the breeze gets. Central America typically brings high temperatures and light winds. This is a real test of yacht racing skill. Patiently and constantly trimming your sails to find an extra quarter knot of boat speed will certainly mean the difference between first and last. You won’t be able to switch off for a moment. Ocean racing is like a lengthy game of chess and often the final results only become clear on the last couple of days. With boats sometimes finishing within a few minutes of each other, it’s never over ‘til it’s over. Then from the finish line off Panama City, stand by for one of the engineering wonders of the world; the Panama Canal.
You rise through the locks on the Pacific side up to Gatun freshwater lake, fed from the surrounding rain forests. Then it’s down the locks on the other side and the waters of the Atlantic welcome the race fleet again. It really does feel like coming home. Back in the Atlantic.
The next race takes your north through the blue water sailing playground of the Caribbean. Stand by for tropical heat, trade winds and squalls. You can expect the challenges to come from every point of the compass all the way up to final stop in this leg. As you draw closer, don’t be surprised if thunderstorms make a regular appearance over the horizon. But, as you sail into port you will probably be the only people in the city who arrive from the west coast by sea. You’ve got some serious celebrating to do after taking on such a tough mental and physical challenge.