Stop-start Transatlantic Race

Fast boats prepare for the big park-up in the Transatlantic Race

Monday July 6th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: United States

Comanche, Rambler 88, Phaedo3 and Paradox, the four fastest boats in the Transatlantic Race have set off in hot pursuit of the remainder of the fleet.

Normal 0 false false false EN-GB X-NONE X-NONE Overnight they have been made solid progress with Lloyd Thornburg’s electric lime green MOD70 trimaran Phaedo3 leading, having covered some 307 miles in the 18 hours since starting. Jim and Kirsty Clark’s 100ft maxi Comanche was already 50 miles astern, but leading her smaller rival George David’s Rambler 88 by 20 miles, with Peter Aschenbrenner 66ft trimaran Paradox a further 30 miles back. And while impressive, conditions at present are less than ideal - VMG running and having to gybe frequently in a 13-15 knot westerly as they attempt to take advantage of favourable eddies in the Gulf Stream.

“So far it is beautiful sailing,” announced Ken Read, skipper of Comanche. “It is a nice way to break into a Transatlantic Race.”

Miles Seddon, navigator on board Phaedo3 agreed: “We had stronger breeze than forecast getting out of Newport and it has been good fun. It is nice to get offshore and into the routine of racing again.” This morning, the mighty MOD70 was averaging 18-20 knots in a 11-12 knot westerly, gybing her way along the top of one of the eddies in the Gulf Stream, while trying to get around the top of an area of high pressure that is encroaching from the south. 

But the millionaire dollar question for the ‘fast’ boats is can they keep the wind? At present there is a depression to their east, but this is speeding away towards Europe leaving a giant, windless area of high pressure in its wake.

Ken Read’s verdict is that even the mighty Comanche will park in around 24 hours. “The ice gate combined with a high that is developing right in front of us is really going to slow us down for a day or two. If we had started even 24 hours before, we probably could have pulled through, got on to the back of the low and had a record run. But that’s the way it is - you have to play with the deck that you’re given.”

On the faster Phaedo 3, prospects are looking a little more hopeful. “A high pressure ridge will spoil our party a little bit,” continues Seddon.  “If we keep moving quickly we could just get in front of it, but if we start to slow up then we’ll struggle along at the bottom of the ice gate.” So it could be a difficult Tuesday-Wednesday but from then on it the boats will be ‘ripping’ east, as Ken Read puts it, potentially all the way to the finish line off the Lizard with an ETA of sometime around next weekend.

Despite the short term forecast being a gloomy one, Ken Read says they are going to keep pushing, while legendary navigator, Stan Honey, finds a solution. However at present it looks like a race restart between the maxis, allowing Rambler 88 with a chance to catch up as she will be first to pick up the new breeze.  “If our grand wizard [Stan] can find us a way through the high, maybe we’ll still have a chance at the record. But right now it is not looking great.”

At the front of the fleet a similar transition is taking place. Mariette of 1915 appears to have performed a ‘horizon job’ on the fleet with 1065 miles left to sail at 1300 UTC, but in reality by being further east she has held on to a departing depression for longer as the boats behind her yesterday fell off it and into light wind. Her turn to slow down will come later today.

“The wind has died completely, because there is no pressure gradient between the two lows and now we have got quite a complicated front coming up,” explained Ian Moore, navigator on board Bryon Ehrhart's Reichel Pugh 63 Lucky, that continues to lead this group on handicap. This morning the wind had slowly filled in from the east and Moore was expecting the breeze to ultimately end up in the southwest once again, but Lucky first had to withstand a large occluded front crossing her. According to Moore this looks set to bring a wind shift of more than 90°, but it was hard to predict how much wind it would in it.

Other than that, Lucky’s race has been excellent, this being Ehrhart and his crew’s major event of the season following the RORC Caribbean 600. They had big breeze from the start and have spent the last few days leading the race both on elapsed time and on IRC handicap. In fact Moore was proud that until it was scuppered in the last few hours, they had averaged 15 knots since starting, during which time they hit a peak speed of 31 knots.

Once back up to speed, prospects are also good: When the next depression catches them, it should take them all or at least most of the way to the Lizard. “We are hoping by mid-afternoon to have 15-16 knots from 120° TWA and that means we’ll be back up into the high teens boat speed. From there on we should have a really nice end, hopefully at close to 20 knots for a couple of days. That would be what we all signed on for.”

Since starting last Wednesday, Moore said that they had a few issues soon after the start involving sail damage. On their tight luffed A3, the luff had parted company allowing the body of the sail to become inadvertently 'free flying' and it was deemed irrepairable without a sewing machine on board. They also managed to put a large gash into their only fractional sail, however this they did spend 12 hours using every available maerial on board, including Sikaflex, to put back together again. “It is not 100%, but we have used it to great effect coming along the bottom of the icegate,” said Moore.




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