Storm force winds mid-Atlantic

As Mariette clings on as the Transatlantic Race leaders sprint for the line

Wednesday July 8th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Severe conditions in the mid-north Atlantic continue to punish the bulk of the fleet in the Transatlantic Race.

Yesterday Daniel and Gretchen Biemesderfer finally made the decision to retire from the race after their Mason 43, Shearwater suffered mainsail and rigging damage. She is heading for the Azores. Similarly last night, shortly before midnight UTC, Carter Bacon’s Nielsen 50, Solution sustained damage to her rudder and was taking on water. They have stopped the flood but too are now diverting to the Azores, albeit without electronics which went down in a previous deluge.

The mid-fleet took a pounding last night as a depression passed to their north and they were blasted by its associated cold front. During this one of the most northerly boats in this group, Earl St Aldwyn’s Shipman 50 Zephyr saw sustained winds in the low 40s but one gust of 59 knots (ie Force 11 or a violent storm on the Beaufort scale)

“It was a little bit more than we anticipated, but we knew it was going to blow so we hunkered down,” recounted Zephyr skipper David Sharples. “It was just the front of the squalls which were a bit hefty.” During this time while running under triple reefed main and working jib, Zephyr scored a new high speed of 22 knots down one surf.

This morning conditions had abated on board and the wind was ‘merely’ low 30s from the southwest. “We have bene remarkably lucky with breakage, so far - touch wood that continues. We are still chasing Dorade/Carina and hoping we can catch one of them before we get to the line.”

113 miles ahead of Zephyr the mostly German crew on the lead Class40 Stella Nova, also had a lively night. However rather than being a ‘faster cruiser’, their Mach 40 is a pure ocean racing yacht.

“It is a great team on board, all working together,” said skipper Burkard Keese. “But a Class40 is designed for conditions like we’ve got. And the Mach 40 from JPS Production is just a dream, amazing.” No doubt contributing to Stella Nova’s boat speed is leading Class40 sailor Jörg Riechers, who earlier this year sailed an IMOCA 60 around the world doublehanded in the Barcelona World Race.

According to Keese last night they ‘only’ saw 40 knots and they were eating up the miles under two reefs and spinnaker. Today the wind has dropped and they are awaiting the arrival of the next front. Generally all is well on board except tha the sails have been taking a hammering in the conditions and they destroyed their Code 0 during one particularly violent squall.

Meanwhile the depression/front that pummelled the mid-fleet is now catching up with the front runners, who have the benefit of not being so close to its centre. The front of the Transatlantic Race currently resembles three sprinters gunning for the line. At 1200 UTC, the mighty 138ft gaff schooner Mariette of 1915 was still a nose in front with 643 miles to go compared to Lucky and Nomad IV, with 655 and 683 miles to go respectively. However Mariette’s younger carbon fibre rivals will pass within the next 24 hours, Bryon Ehrhart’s Reichel Pugh 63 Lucky still gunning for ‘the double’, bragging rights of being first home - if she can stay ahead of Clarke Murphy’s giant, well-appointed 100ft performance maxi Nomad IV - and overall winner under IRC. At present a Friday night finish is on the cards but exactly when will depend on whether or not an area of high pressure managed to encroach over the race course as the boats approach the Scilly Isles off Land’s End on Friday.

Meanwhile, there is the noise of V8 engines slowly coming to life in the western Atlantic, where the world’s two fastest monohulls and two of the world’s fastest trimarans have been wallowing for the last 24 hours. Lloyd Thornberg’s MOD 70 trimaran, Phaedo 3, a speedster capable of average speeds in the low 30s and peak speeds into the low 40s had covered just 91 miles over the last 24 hours, or an average speed of 3.7 knots. In fact this episode may go down as one of the longest periods boats of this kind, that are usually capable of ‘making their own wind’, have parked up.

Over this course of this morning Jim and Kristy Clark’s 100ft Comanche has managed to find some pressure to the north and had rolled even Phaedo 3 and had opened up a lead of almost 50 miles of her direct competition, George David’s Rambler 88.

“It is lovely out here!” said Rambler 88’s Australian navigator Andrew Cape with the tone of a man who spent the last hours pulling his hair out. “We had a really bad patch, but it was always in the plan and we’ve had to live with it.”

This morning the wind was slowly filling in and Rambler 88 was recording 8 knots and Cape, who has barely had a chance to touch down from finishing the Volvo Ocean Race as navigator on Team Brunel, was expecting the breeze to fill in over the course of today. “Tomorrow we should be smoking along, happily on our way.”

Thanks to the park up, George David’s monohull race record of 6 days 22 hourss, set on Rambler 100 in 2011, looks set to stand, however Cape warns that the two maxis may be in for a fast run over Friday-Saturday as they scream towards the UK. Record breaking? “We could give it a real good nudge.”



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