Messages from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean

Imagine being on a sailboat all alone in the Atlantic Ocean in the cold of December.

For the participants of the "Transat Ecover B to B" race, this is exactly what they've been experiencing for the last two weeks. The competitors are expert sailors, who are single-handedly challenging themselves from Salvador de Bahia in Brazil to Port La Floret in Bretagne, France (Bahia to Bretagne, hence "B to B"). The race is one of a handful of qualifiers for sailors who wish to enter even more gruelling solo round-the-globe races, like the Vendee Globe.

French skipper Loick Peyron, navigating Gitana Eighty, arrived first in France late Thursday night. Behind him, at various distances, stretched the field of another 12 boats. One of them is Spirit of Canada, skippered by Derek Hatfield of Aurora, Ontario. He prepared the boat in Port Credit and sailed it on Lake Ontario before heading to Brazil.

Through daily e-mail updates for his team's sponsors and other supporters, Hatfield has allowed us to follow him on his adventure. Somehow - I assume by satellite uplink - he finds a way to tap out a daily message while he's sailing the boat.

A few days ago, the tone was despairing, as the boat languished for several days in flat seas, with no wind and no progress. The fatigue and stress was apparent in his notes. Then the wind finally picked up and his messages became more upbeat.

This is what he wrote on Friday:

Hello from Spirit of Canada 14 December 2007.

Overall it's been a good sailing day but still not a lot of wind. On average about 8 knots
of wind from the southeast so we are going off the wind for a change. I have
continued to hand steer to get the maximum from the gennaker and boat speed.
There was a great sunset tonight and each night has been clear with millions
of stars. As the boats start the finishing process, it always gets anxious
for those further back to get in and finish. I am starting to feel the
anxiety now with over 1000 miles to go, it is not a position I am used to.
Here's hoping for a quick finish from here but unfortunately the winds are
not playing fair so far.

And the next day he wrote this:

Hello from Spirit of Canada 15 December 15, 2007

The wind is back! Finally we have some decent wind, albeit from
the south it is a welcome change from that heinous area behind us that held us
for so many hours. I'm sailing a direct course to the finish line at speed so it
feels great. Congratulations to all of those skippers that are in port, what a
fantastic job they did. The situation on board is very static at the moment and
as I mentioned before, I am anxious to be finished and move on to the next
stage.The family is on their way to France and will be flying overhead in about
6 hours from now. I'll keep an eye for the light in the window.

If you'd like to learn more about Hatfield, see here.

More information on the race is available at:
Photo is by Yucel Tellici, made available by the

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