End of an epic
A potentially boat breaking low depression was predicted to hit the west coast of Ireland at precisely the moment when the majority of the fleet would be there and caught out with nowhere to run. To avoid the extreme weather the Royal Ocean Racing Club took the decision to reverse the course and race anti-clockwise around Britain and Ireland. The race is 1802 miles long and highly tactical with frequent changes to the weather and sea state. Racing around Britain and Ireland is a real challenge. At one time or another all of the competing yachts experienced some testing conditions and it would be over two weeks before some of the competitors would complete the course.
The Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race exploded into action on the 23rd August, under grey leaden skies and big breeze.
ICAP Leopard and Telefónica Azul were a hair-raising sight as RORC Chief Executive Eddie Warden Owen reported from the racecourse:
"It was a magnificent start, 25 knots from the southwest with gusts of up to 30 knots coming out of the Medina River. Telefónica was an impressive sight, built to race at full tilt around the world, she carried her enormous spinnaker to blast past Leopard at over 25 knots. It was a really impressive sight to see these huge machines charging down the Solent leaving the rest of the 27-strong fleet in their wake."
Volvo Open 70, Groupama, were 15 minutes late to start having been damaged on their mooring. The French team made a hasty repair and although Groupama started last, it wasn't long before they were screaming through the fleet, chasing ICAP Leopard and Telefónica Azul. However, Mike Slade's record attempt was short lived. Sadly, only hours after the start, ICAP Leopard was forced to retire with a broken boom gooseneck.
Telefónica Azul was scorching along at a blistering speed. After the first 24 hours of the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race the Spanish yacht had covered an astonishing 440 miles. Hurtling along behind them was Groupama, pushing hard.
Groupama were stalking their prey, waiting for any opportunity and it came by way of a rigging problem on Telefónica Azul. Groupama stormed into the lead and didn't put a foot wrong the whole race. Telefónica Azul got very close to catching their rivals but never managed to get passed them. Groupama crossed the Royal Yacht Squadron Line in under six days: smashing the course record by over 14 hours.
There were emotional scenes on board as Franck Cammas and his crew crossed the finish line. It was a triumphant finale for Groupama in sharp contrast to their start.
"The course is like a mini Volvo Ocean Race," said Cammas. "It has all of the different conditions that we will encounter and it has been really good to race against Teléfonica. The crew has really got to know each other well and we have made some fantastic progress in our development over the last few days. Best wishes to everyone who will finish the race, it is a great achievement."
Next to finish was Telefónica Azul and on the following day, Jonny Malbon's IMOCA 60, Artemis Ocean Racing, crossed the Royal Yacht Squadron Line to set a new course record for an IMOCA 60.
Artemis Ocean Racing was also declared as the overall winner under IRC.
"It was a tough race in tough weather conditions, and we pushed the boat harder than ever all the way round the course. It is a testament to the guys' determination and competitive spirit to keep at full power the whole time," commented Malbon.
Artemis Ocean Racing had to wait some time before confirmation of an overall victory. Simonas Steponavicius' Volvo 60, Ambersail, came desperately close to eclipsing Artemis Ocean Racing's corrected time but the wind went light and it was not to be. However the Lithuanian team were delighted to win IRC Super Zero and take second place overall.
Piet Vroon's Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens, was also very close to winning the race overall, but light headwinds hampered their progress in the English Channel. Piet Vroon, who is now in his 81st year and a previous winner of the race, commented: "Obviously it is disappointing not to win, but we can do nothing about the wind, no-one can. It is has been a fantastic race. I will always remember flying down the west coast of Ireland under spinnaker for a whole day and night."
Tony Lawson's Class 40, Concise, skippered by Ned Collier Wakefield, was not suited to the large amount of upwind work but the Concise Team also joined the record breakers in the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race smashing the record for a yacht of up to forty feet by nearly two days.
For the smaller boats it was a very different race and in many respects a far tougher one. The Corinthian fleet endured some very rough conditions on the way to and from the Shetlands. At times some of them were under bare poles. Following this the weather gods made life difficult in the opposite way, when the wind died between the Hebrides and Ireland. The game changed from survival to trying to second guess where the new breeze would come from.
Conditions did not get any easier when the smaller boats got back into the Channel where they were presented with a tough beat all the way back to Cowes.
Steven Anderson's First 40.7, Encore, put in an outstanding race winning IRC One by a big margin. For a 40-foot production boat, it was a magnificent performance. Encore raced with intelligence and guile in the tough conditions.
Harry Heijst's Dutch S&S 41, Winsome, with Sevenstar's Managing Director Richard Klabbers on board, was the victor in IRC Two having got the better of Adrian Lower's Swan 44, Selene, from the Royal Burnham Yacht Club.
Selene, the last boat to finish, took two weeks to complete the course compared with only six days for the biggest boats. Twice as long in a boat half the size, what a feat; the very essence of Corinthian RORC racing!