The sailor's weather eye

Andrew Preece reveals a secret weapon in the race around the world
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As Mike Golding trickled down the light winds of the last few days towards Rio di Janeiro and victory in the first leg of the BT Global Challenge, Chay Blyth's amateur race around the world against the prevailing winds and currents, back at Cambridge University Vincent Geake was sharing some of the satisfaction of a job well done.

Geake combines the boffin-like air of the scientist that he is (he is currently working with a group at the university developing flat-panel LCDs) with a hankering for the tough outdoor life as a sailor on the Whitbread Round The World Race. He is Golding's weather guru, and has played a major role in advising the Group 4 skipper.

Geake developed his interest in meteorology when he inherited the job of navigator aboard Lawrie Smith's Rothmans during the 1989/90 Whitbread after starting out as a crewman. So impressed was Smith with Geake's analytical prowess in a job that in recent years has been transformed from working out the position of the boat to becoming an on-board electronics expert and weather forecaster, that he was signed up with Smith's Whitbread campaign four years later. He is now working with Smith again, developing weather models for next year's race, when he is likely once again to set off around the world.

Geake is now a much sought-after man. In Chay Blyth's first race four years ago Geake regularly briefed Golding and when Golding set off to try to beat Blyth's singlehanded non-stop record he used Geake's data. Geake also helped Samantha Brewster when she attempted to beat Golding's record earlier this year, and Pete Goss in the singlehanded trans-Atlantic race this summer.

Work on this race, which Golding has gone to great lengths to win, began with several days at the Meteorological Office in Bracknell poring over historical data. From that Geake assembled a leg-by-leg strategy for the entire race. "Basically I sent him off with a folder for each leg of how I think the climate works with a variety of options for different circumstances," says Geake. "But he's got enough nous to know if I've told him something wrong and decide when to ignore it."

Because the rules outlaw communicating weather planning and strategy to the boats during the race, detailed weather briefing is restricted to the start of each leg. "I met Mike at 5am on the day of the start of the race and we basically went through the five-day forecast from the Met Office. There are various ways of forecasting from the data available but you've got to be bloody good to do it better than the Met Office."

Golding led the leg from early on, but made his big gains towards the end of the first week, when he split from the pack off the coast of Portugal. "We knew before he left on the five-day forecast that he would go offshore down the Portuguese coast and that's where he made the break," says Geake.

But although Geake has clearly given Golding a significant tactical advantage he is quick to credit Golding: "You can give anybody the information but at the end of it all it depends on the nous of the person using the information to interpret it and use it intelligently."