Photo: Stuart Streuli

Two schools of thought

Northerly boats lead but Mariette of 1915 leads the charge to the southeast in the Transatlantic Race

Tuesday June 30th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: United States

Since yesterday passing the exclusion zones around Nantucket Shoals and, further to the east, the Northern Right Whale Critical habitat, the 13 strong first wave of boats competing in the Transatlantic Race has entered the Atlantic proper now, where it has divided in two.

The giant classic schooner Mariette of 1915, which at 138ft is the largest yacht competing, picked up the breeze and surged ahead yesterday. She has been leading the charge to the southeast ahead of a cold front, chased by two of the world’s most famous ‘classic’ ocean racers, Dorade and Carina – plus the more modern British Lightwave 48, Scarlet Oyster.

These boats are now over the continental shelf and where last night the crew would have seen the depth plummet from 50-100m to two to four kilometres. They are now literally in the ‘deep ocean’.

The aim of their spearing off to the southeast is to key into a band of stronger southwesterly winds that are currently spinning around a giant area of high pressure situated mid-Atlantic. The weather forecast indicates that the high is set to remain in situ for the rest of this week, and that the present southwesterlies (or westerlies) could hold for this period, propelling the boats to, and possibly beyond, the southerly limit of the ice exclusion zone around the Grand Banks at 41°30N between 51°30 and 48°W. The western limit of this was still some 650 miles away from Mariette of 1915 this morning.

Depending upon how much further she continues on her present course, Mariette of 1915 could well reach one of the strongest parts of the Gulf Stream, the warm current that, in this area of the ocean, flows in a favourable northeasterly direction. If she passes 39°N, the Gulf Stream could for a time boost the classic two masted giant’s boat speed towards the finish line by a very welcome 3 knots. But will she take up this option while all the boats astern of her have already gybed?

If heading southeast is the ‘adventurous’ option, there are boats to the north that have adopted an equally valid tactic: The age-old approach of staying close to the great circle, thereby sailing the shortest course. This usually favours the slower boats so the Transatlantic Race at this stage is turning into something of a ‘tortoise and hare’ contest.

Among the boats that have chosen the great circle option (165 miles north of Mariette of 1915), doing best are Robert Forman’s Hinckley Sou'Wester 42 Jacqueline IV – returning to this race course after she finished third in class in 2011– and the German Swan 441, Charisma, skippered by Constantin Claviez. They are both due to cross the continental shelf tonight.

At present Jacqueline IV is the only boat in the fleet to the north of the great circle route, to the southern limit of the ice exclusion zone. Thanks to this, she is in the welcome position of being technically the current leader, both on the water and under IRC handicap. Charisma is also doing well, second overall under IRC and leader in the Cruising class. So early on in the race, this means little, but will be a welcome morale booster for the crew.

From on board Charisma, which is being sailed by an entirely German crew save for one Austrian, Claviez provided an update on his race: “We had a good start, but went into very light winds in the night. Afterwards we sailed the whole time under spinnaker with light wind followed by dolphins - it was a good atmosphere. Everything is fine on the boat.”

The Gulf Stream is an important to their plan: “Our strategy is not to pick up the Gulf Stream further south, because there is too much risk of negative current,” continued Claviez, who added that they were expecting to pick up the next favourable eddy around 80 miles away to the east northeast.

Following the heinous sea state on the first night, the sea has moderated, Claviez reporting a smooth sea state and light winds. Meanwhile the crew is getting settled into life on board, where the routine is punctuated by meal times. “We have enjoyed everything we are eating. Everyone cooks one meal and we enjoy whatever is on the table,” says Claviez.

Tomorrow those already out on the race course will be joined by a further 21 boats, representing the bulk of the Transatlantic Race fleet. This includes five Class40s, one of which, Visit Brussels, is being sailed by Belgian round the world sailor Michel Kleinjans; an IRC Racer-Cruiser fleet with the Maxi Nomad IV and Windfall leading the charge; and the racing class including Grey Power, the Open 60 of living legend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail non-stop around the world singlehanded.

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