Written by Louay Habib Friday, 27 August 2010 08:35
At sunrise on the fifth day of the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race, half the fleet had rounded Muckle Flugga and finally came off the wind. The North Atlantic will be colder, but the biggest change will be the sea state and wind angle. Long rolling waves, up to 200 metres long, will create a corkscrew motion as the yachts slide down the front of the waves. Many of the yachts will be able to carry spinnakers for the first time since the start of this epic race. Life on board will be a great deal more comfortable than beating up the North Sea.
Groupama lead the way and are heading for the remote Inishkea Islands, off the northwest coast of Ireland. 35 miles behind, Teléfonica Azul lead the chase. The Volvo Open 70s are averaging 15 knots, faster than the wind. The canting keel, high-tech hull shape and asymmetric design of the sails make these yachts the fastest ocean-going monohulls ever built. There are complex weather and tidal issues ahead and the navigators on board will be downloading high-resolution weather data to calculate the best route to take.
"This morning we are just two miles from St. Kilda. In racing terms, it is a bit frustrating at the moment," commented Jonny Malbon by satellite phone from the IMOCA 60, Artemis Ocean Racing. "There is very little wind at the moment and we can see the 70s up ahead via the race tracker. They are in breeze and the boats behind us also have good speed. We just want to get going again. However, racing apart, this is a beautiful part of the world. The water is incredibly clean and bright blue and we had a fantastic sail to here from Muckle Flugga. I can see St. Kilda in front of us with not a soul on it and it looks like something out of Jurassic Park. There are a large number of sea birds circling around us and the cliffs of St. Kilda, it is just such an incredible place."
In third place overall under IRC, Lithuanian Volvo 60, Ambersail is due to make St. Kilda at 0900, this morning. The crew all come from the Amber Sailing Club and normally race against each other in one-design keelboats. In 2009, to celebrate the country's 1000th birthday, the club purchased the Volvo 60 and sailed it around the world in 12 legs. The Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race is a reunion for the crew, no doubt there will be some great banter on board during the race.
During the night, the British Keelboat Academy's TP52, John Merricks II slipped past Piet Vroon's Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens, by taking a more southerly route. Tonnerre de Breskens are still leading the race under IRC overall, but Chaz Ivill's, Grand Soleil 54, John B has rounded Muckle Flugga and will be picking up pace with the favourable wind angle.
In IRC One, Steven Anderson's First 40.7, Encore retains the overnight lead. Encore chose to tack to the west during the night whilst rivals, the Army Sailing Association's A 40, British Soldier, took up a westerly position. Both yachts should be at Muckle Flugga before sunset and Steven Anderson can hardly wait, as he explains in his blog;
"Roll on Muckle Flugga. Currently closer to Norway than Scotland and passing an astonishing number of oil rigs. There is a whole offshore city out here. Dolphins came to play this afternoon. Our identification skills don't tell us if they are really dolphins of porpoises or pilot whales. No matter, great to have visitors playing in the bow wave. Fingers crossed that the weather follows the forecast in the next few hours and our routing works out."
Last night was a huge test for Keith Gibbs, C&C 115, Change of Course and Philippe Falle's Reflex 38, Visit Malta Puma. Whilst the majority of the fleet where enjoying comfortable conditions, the Dogger Bank in the North Sea, served up some lively conditions for the boats at the tail end of the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race. Headwinds gusting up to 20 knots with a steep short sea would have made life on board very uncomfortable indeed. The crews on both boats will be dreaming of making Muckle Flugga and finally coming off the breeze.