Make or Break

Team Philips is about to stick her nose out into the North Atlantic as the 'hundred year storm approaches'

Monday December 4th 2000, Author: Mark Chisnell, Location: United Kingdom
Team Philips left Dartmouth for further sea trials on Saturday 2nd December at 10.00 in the morning. Turning left out of Dartmouth and heading east up the English Channel, just over 24 hours later she was off Lowestoft on the east coast of Britain. At that stage the boat had light northerly winds and a quiet night's sailing behind her, as she continued to head north at speeds of up to 35 knots according to the team website.

The forecast is for some serious weather coming in from the west, a massive low pressure system targeted and locked on the Western Approaches - conditions can be expected to be unpleasant-going-on-extreme from the Irish Sea to the Bay to Biscay for much of this week. So rather than continue to wait in Dartmouth for an opportunity to cross Biscay in something other than 'hundred year storm' conditions (they come around once a week at the moment), Goss has taken the opportunity to get round into the more protected North Sea, to give his boat sea miles before tackling some seriously heavy weather. But after easing into these trials they are all set to go for it.

On Monday afternoon, 4th December, Team Philips was sailing up the eastern side of the island of Orkney, and was expected to pass between the Orkney and Shetland Islands by mid-afternoon. They have spent most of the trip so far in a following wind that started at 12-18 knots and gradually increased to 30 knots or more, and already the crew report that they, "had the pod in a wave".

That will just be a taste of what's to come, Team Philips is about to move out of the lee of the British Isles - and be exposed to the full force of whatever the Atlantic chooses to throw at her. The weather forecast is winds up to 40 knots and swells up to seven metres clear of the Orkney's. This is becoming a real test, and given that Goss is now half-way round the UK, to all intents and purposes he's now effectively half-way through his qualifying sail for The Race.

But the team have stressed that this sea trial is being directed by the weather, and the plan is to continue heading north-west in the southerly breeze that they have at the moment. This southerly is generated by the leading edge of the incoming monster depression. This weather system is heading east, and so by going north-west the Team Philips crew and their weather routeur Lee Bruce hope to sail over the top of it. That will rotate the breeze through the south-east and into the east, allowing Team Philips to turn south behind the low pressure system before heading back down the Atlantic in easterly and then north-easterly breeze.

Lee Bruce commented on the Team Philips website, "This is not without risk as the weather pattern will be ever changing, and we must remain flexible in our plan if we are to keep the crew and boat safe." But it's a solid plan and should allow Goss to complete his qualifying passage in conditions that will provide a good test, without them getting trapped in front of the low with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide - as they might if they had tried to cross the Bay of Biscay this week.

They are also setting a pretty impressive pace, having covered the distance from Dartmouth to the Orkneys in just over two days. The winning mono-hull in this summer's Round Britain Race - an Open 50 - took over ten and a half days to get all the way round. The Atlantic north of Scotland is no place for faint hearts in the middle of winter. Pete Goss commented, "We wanted a stern test of Team Philips before setting off for the much more settled conditions of the Med, so we really have dived in with both feet by heading to 60 degrees North. It's wickedly windy and very rough, but we have grins from ear to ear. Team Philips is doing her job brilliantly."

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