Criterion Round Britain and Ireland Race – Day 5

Friday 25th August 2000 - 1700

Friday August 25th 2000, Author: Mark Chisnell, Location: United Kingdom
The fleet has seen conditions develop largely as expected over the last 24 hours. The high pressure has been weakening and sinking slowly south-east towards Belgium. This has kept a strong easterly breeze cranking down the English Channel (which isn’t doing Sir Robin Knox Johnston any favours in his attempt to break the solo round Britain and Ireland record, he’ll be wishing he’d gone round clockwise right now) - but over the Scottish Isles it’s produced a perfect sailing south-westerly of about 15 knots.

The weather buoy reports from the west of the fleet show a substantial shift from 230 (south-west) to 200 (south-south-west) between about 0700 and 0900 this morning. Looking at the position report map, Alex Thomson and his crew appear to have played this shift perfectly. If you bring up the track of the boat, it’s possible to see a dogleg course - this certainly looks like a gybe from port to starboard to take advantage of the backing wind direction, though I’m only guessing.

For a map of the latest positions, click here.

Thomson is now storming towards the turning mark, Muckle Flugga, on the northern tip of the Shetland Isles, with just over 70 nm to go at 1500 this afternoon. That gives him a lead of just under 90 nm to Incisor of Wight, the Corby 45 skippered by Derek Saunders. Mike Butterfield’s Dazzler catamaran is another 13 nm behind Incisor. Alex Thomson has more than doubled his lead on these two boats since yesterday’s report - the rich have certainly got richer. Behind this lead group of three is Pindar, creeping back towards Saunders and his crew a little, but Richards and Merron still have plenty of work to do.

Almost out of touch with the front group now is the Prima 38, Primadonna. But she is still a long way ahead of the boats of comparable size - who have slowed trying to round Black Rock on the north-west tip of Ireland. That bunch is about a 160 nm behind Primadonna, but still engaged in a very tight race amongst themselves. Aquadanca, the Sigma 38 of John Oldland, crept around Black Rock ahead of Water Music IV, the Nicholson 49 being sailed double-handed by Chris Preston and Rob Gray. Four miles behind them at 1500, was the Diva 39 of Tim Wright, Stealth. Meanwhile, the smallest boat left in the race, the Hustler SJ35 of Richard Houghton, Act of Defiance, has been storming up behind this group, closing to within just over ten miles of Stealth and making huge gains on handicap.

The high pressure will soon have its primary position in the race agenda overtaken, pushed out of the picture by a gnarly low pressure. This is approaching, albeit slowly, from the west. Somewhere on this system, presumably on the bottom left-hand (south-west) corner, is a storming PlayStation, trying to break the trans-Atlantic passage record. The low is forecast to slow and weaken over Iceland tonight. It’s dragging a front with a lot of cloud and a big windshift that should roll over the fleet sometime tomorrow, probably during the morning.

The wind looks like it will back to the south or even the south-east, before it goes round to the west when the front is fully across them. This could be as late as Sunday morning, and for the leaders there is every chance they will turn the corner at the Shetlands and have to head upwind. In that scenario it would seem to make sense to take the tack that puts them west of the rhumb-line, and the opposition if at all possible. That would allow them to get the freeing windshift first, which is coming from the west. But the local conditions of tide and land effects may mean the choice is nowhere near that simple - it rarely is.

The lucky ones will be those who time their arrival to turn south at Muckle Flugga and head down the North Sea, just as the wind goes hard right and veers to put them back on a reach. That will close them up on those who have rounded ahead, and we could see this race tighten a little before tomorrow’s report.

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