Twist of Fate
The first three days of the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race produced fast downwind conditions for the entire fleet. However, yesterday afternoon a northwesterly air flow headed the fleet yet to round Out Stack, and the changeable weather is due to continue today. Only a few yachts will benefit, for many it will be a disadvantage. After four days, the remaining competitors will be fully in tune to the routine of life at sea.
Yesterday, at approximately 1400 BST, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Volvo Ocean 65 Azzam, skippered by Ian Walker, rounded the Fastnet Rock, leading the fleet and over 40 miles ahead of Team Campos, skippered by Iker Martinez. Almost immediately Azzam gybed offshore onto starboard and didn't gybe back for 90 miles. Team Campos followed Azzam offshore, but gybed for the Scilly Isles, 50 miles earlier than Azzam, which turned into a ten mile gain for the Spanish team. Bear in mind that while they can receive regular weather updates and position reports, the teams cannot see the RORC race player and cannot see each other's immediate moves until the next update. At 0800 BST, Azzam was 30 miles ahead of Team Campos with 130 miles to go and is expected to finish the race today sometime before dusk.
"We took the gybe offshore as a precaution," commented Ian walker by satellite phone to the RORC Media Team. "We wanted to stay in the best pressure and get a good angle to the Scilly Isles but avoid the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme). Compared to the last four days, we are racing in comfortable conditions with the off watch able to get some sleep. However, we expect our lead to be whittled away over the next few hours as the breeze develops from behind. In the Volvo Ocean Race many legs end with this scenario. As we approach land the wind can change for the leader, allowing the boats behind to catch up. We have a big lead but if we park up, even for a couple of hours, it will completely vanish."
The battle for third in the Volvo Ocean 65 Class is currently being led by Team Dongfeng, skippered by Frenchman Charles Caudrelier. The Chinese entry for the forthcoming Volvo Ocean Race was 16 miles ahead of SCA, skippered by Sam Davies, and Alvimedica, skippered by Charlie Enright.
$20,000 worth of worldwide shipping credit is up for grabs for the winner of the IRC fleet, courtesy of race sponsor Sevenstar Yacht Transport, and three well travelled yachts are in the hunt. Jens Kellinghusen's Ker 51, Varuna, is the race leader but the German team are at an interesting point in the race. At 0800 BST Varuna was rounding Blackrock on the North West coast of Ireland, racing downwind at 12 knots. However, the wind is set to decrease and veer west this afternoon which may reduce Varuna's progress, as they may not have a sufficient angle to fly a spinnaker.
As Varuna was rounding Blackrock, Andrew Budgen and Fred Schwyn's Volvo 70, Monster Project, and Brian Thompson's IMOCA 60, Artemis Team-Endeavour, were rounding the Fastnet Rock. The effect of the new westerly breeze will reach them later than Varuna but, although the wind speed is due to decrease, the two canting keel flyers should be able to fly spinnakers. Therefore, while at 0800 BST Varuna had an estimated lead, after time correction, of 7 hours from Artemis-Team Endeavour, that lead is likely to diminish during the day.
Varuna's navigator, Guillermo Altadill, is one of the most experienced offshore sailors in the race. The Spanish yachtsman has competed in ten circumnavigations, two Volvo Ocean Races and two Whitbreads but he won't be the first of his family to complete the race. Guillermo's son, Willy, is sailing onboard Team Campos, and is nearly 400 miles ahead of his father.
Guillermo Altadill sent a message back to the RORC Race Team yesterday afternoon. The race tracker may show Varuna's every move but it cannot show the realities of life onboard.
"5 minutes before the start gun we broke one of the steering wheels, so we have been busy with that and other jobs to do onboard, on top of the sail changes, sail repair, composite repairs and in general keeping the boat fast and in one piece...nothing exceptional in a offshore race like this one! For me as an offshore navigator the course of for this race in more stressful and give you less rest as very often you have to round some point , that means changing course and gears to keep the boat fast , the interior is a bit messy with 12 crew in a 50 footer but we need the human power to fight against the canting keel boats, sometimes I miss the press of a red button to start the noise of the hydraulic keel ram, moving many tons to the side. The last few hours was a fast and easy sail downwind and we hope to keep like that almost until the finish."
Muckle Flugga - At Last!
At 0900 BST, four yachts were round, or approaching, Muckle Flugga, to round Out Stack, the most northerly part of the course: Ross Applebey's Scarlet Logic, Ian Hoddle's Rare, Relentless on Jellyfish sailed by James George and Jankees Lampe's La Promesse. Four more yachts should round Out Stack this morning: Stormforce Coaching's Palpatine, sailed by Ifan James, the Army Sailing Association's British Soldier, and Saga, sailed by Peter Hopps.
Three yachts were further back, east of the Orkney Islands and about 100 miles from Out Stack: Change of Course, sailed by Dave Dyer, Liam Coyne's Lula Belle and Werner Landwehr's Dessert D'Alcyone. The Royal Armoured Corp Yacht Club's Ruag White Knight 7 appears to be retiring as the boat is making good progress for Peterhead on the east coast of Scotland.
For the last two days, these fourteen yachts have been beating in the North Sea, digging deep into their reserves of strength and tenacity to reach the top of Great Britain. As race fans will have witnessed, the weather can be kind, as it was to Musandam-Oman Sail, but it can be cruel as well.
Just as these yachts reach Muckle Flugga, the wind is veering to the west. This new wind angle will assist those yachts still trying to round Out Stack but the wind is due to continue to veer and strengthen to the southwest. If this forecast is correct then, when these yachts turn west and then south west, the wind will follow them, putting the group back on the wind for at least 24 hours. This will be a real help to Change of Course, Lula Belle and Dessert D'Alcyone, but will hinder the others' progress. That is all bar Scarlet Logic, which will revel in the upwind conditions in IRC Two, compared to their close rivals Rare, which will not be relishing more upwind work.
Life at sea is full of surprises, as Scarlet Logic discovered yesterday and revealed on the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race competitors' race blog. They were paid a visit by a rescue helicopter from the Miller Oil Rig Platform. They politely asked if the winchman could be lowered onto the deck as a training exercise. Scarlet Logic's skipper, Ross Applebey replied yes and the man was lowered down to say hello before returning to the chopper and disappearing into the cloud base!