Criterion Round Britain and Ireland Race - Start

Sunday, 20th August, 1600

Sunday August 20th 2000, Author: Mark Chisnell, Location: United Kingdom
I’ve been struggling to think of a way to open this race commentary without the words - a slow start. But there isn’t any changing the reality. A glorious morning on the Solent to begin the Criterion Round Britain and Ireland Race, except for the almost total absence of wind.

Fortunately, the 10.30 start from the Royal Yacht Squadron line was east-going, and with five hours before high water at Portsmouth, there was plenty of tide to take the boats out of the Solent. At the gun, a light breeze started to fill from just north of west, giving a running start with big gybe angles. Not a day to be over the line, and in the first two starts that we watched, no one was.

For a map of the latest positions, click here.

Not really the kind of weather for the first two classes away, the multi-hulls and Open 50s, none of them sporting a symmetric spinnaker. It was the multi-hulls first, Michael Butterfield’s catamaran Dazzler and Ross Hobson’s trimaran, Mollymawk. It was the tri that had the better of it in those conditions, with a nifty gybing technique of furling her big reaching headsail to lower the windage and help get her through the turn. Yes, it really was that light out there.

Behind them, the two Open 50s were not finding the conditions any more to their liking. It was Alex Thomson and crew that had the better of the girls - Emma Richards and Miranda Merron - aboard Pindar, despite putting themselves out of the best tide by sticking to the Isle of Wight shore. But Pindar had an early spinnaker change (their first choice having more to do with the logo than its appropriateness for the conditions, I suspect) and that let Thomson slip away. It also allowed the leading boat amongst the third start, Derek Saunders’ Incisor of Wight, to catch up.

The course takes them out of the Solent to the east, before turning to the west and rounding the southern tip of the Isle of Wight, St Catherine’s Point. Then it’s down the south coast towards the Bishop Rock, off the Scilly Isles. Ordinarily that wouldn’t take much more than 24 hours for any but the smallest boats in the fleet, but in the forecast conditions, that might be a struggle.

The central weather feature over the next couple of days will be a weak low pressure system that’s spinning up over the next 24 hours, with its center north-west of Ireland. Both the British and US computer models show it getting a little stronger and sinking slowly southwards - right across the race track - through Monday and Tuesday. It should get pushed away by a stronger low pressure cell out in the Atlantic some time on Wednesday.

But for this first 24 to 36 hours, the gradient wind looks like being a pretty light north-westerly, that drifts round to the west and south-west and strengthens. It will be a question of making as much west as they can on starboard tack, before they get headed by the backing wind and can tack to port. But tide and land influences on the wind may well be as important as this overall strategy for the first day’s racing.

At 1400 today, there was only eight knots of west-north-westerly breeze at the Channel Light Vessel. The good news is that the flood tide should have sluiced everyone to the east end of the Isle of Wight, before turning and sluicing them all west on six hours of ebb. It’ll be after that, around sunset, that things start to get tricky - usual story, just as it gets dark and it’s harder to keep track of the opposition.

There will be more difficult decisions beyond the Bishop Rock. With the center of the low pressure travelling south across the Western Approaches, the fleet must decide how best to avoid the light air in the center, and play the rotating wind direction to their advantage. In the meantime, it’s coastal nip and tuck all the way to the Bishop, and we’ll look at how it’s going tomorrow.

List of Entries

1 Act of Defiance, Hustler SJ35, Richard Houghton
2 Aquadanca, Sigma 38, John Oldland
3 Dazzler, 50' Catamaran, Mike Butterfield
4 Incisor of Wight, Corby 45, Derek Saunders
5 Mollymawk, Trimaran, Ross Hobson
6 Pindar, Open 50, Miranda Merron/Emma Richards
7 Predator of Wight, Murray 41, Terry Rowe
8 Primadonna, Prima 38, Chris Bull
9 Psipsina, HOD 35, Lorna Graham
10 Redcoat, Sigma 38, Army Sailing Assoc/Philip Cooper
11 sailthatdream.com, Open 50, Alex Thomson
12 Stealth, Diva 39, Tim Wright
13 Water Music IV, Nicholson 49, Rob Gray/Chris Preston
14 Brainwave of Brighton, Maxi 1000, Carl Hardwidge
15 First Knight, Corby 35, C. Mincham/Andrew Leslie
16 La Folie des Grinders, Alex Simonis 85', Pascal Herold

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