The Race - 0830 - 9/2/01

Club Med's Smokin'! story by Sean McNeill, for Quokka Sports

Friday February 9th 2001, Author: Sean McNeill, Location: United Kingdom
You just knew Grant Dalton and his Club Med crew weren't going to let Innovation Explorer keep the outright, 24-hour distance record. By upping it to 655.2 miles, they've added more than 25 miles to the mark broken six days ago.

The record-breaking indicators were evident a couple of days ago. At 2300 GMT the night before last, Club Med completed a 24-hour run of 621 miles. That got the crew thinking about the 629.5-mile 24-hour record that Loïck Peyron's Innovation Explorer set six days ago approaching Cook Strait.

That distance broke the mark established last June by Club Med, when it covered 625.7 miles. But last night, the crew of the blue-hulled cat could feel it. They could feel the excellent speed sailing conditions under their feet. Namely, flat water. It would make helming easy during the night, so long as icebergs weren't lurking.

Club Med officially broke Innovation Explorer's record at 0100 GMT yesterday when it clocked 631.7 miles. But the conditions were so ideal the distance kept increasing at each poll throughout the morning.

Five hours later it stood at 634.8 miles. Then it jumped to 652.4 miles by 0830 GMT. Finally, it settled at 655.2 miles at 1100 GMT. A new world record (pending ratification) at an average of 27.3 knots, or more than 50 kph.

"These boats really do have the potential of doing 670 or even 700 miles in the right sea conditions," said co-skipper Franck Proffit, Peyron's old double-handed partner in the Formula 60s.

"Last February 2nd our great rival Innovation Explorer stole our glory by doing a couple of miles more," said skipper Grant Dalton. "We took up the challenge at the first occasion, that's to say less than one week later.

"It all started between 0800 and 0900 GMT yesterday. It's been relatively easy, record breaking weather, the angle was right and the sea state reasonable. Now that we are more than half way round the world, we've consumed more than half of our food and fuel, so the boat is much, much lighter and just sails faster. We are beam reaching with flat water and a good wind strength, not too much, but enough.

"It's been tempting beforehand to have a go at the record but the boat has always been loaded up too much. And yes, we have toyed with the thought of records before in The Race, but often the wind and wave conditions either wouldn't allow it or would take us too far from the best course around the world.

"We managed to do just one sail change manoeuvre during this last 24 hours. Normally these really slow you down over the time it takes to execute, up to 40 minutes and more sometimes, and hence miles covered drops. Last night the wind was dropping a touch and, more importantly, shifting, so we needed to put up the Solent and full main. I called for all hands on deck, which is rare, and the whole thing took the crew just 18 minutes. During that time the speed dropped to about 20 knots which is a loss of about six miles in that hour.

"Once on my last watch we sailed past a big iceberg, to leeward. There just wasn't time to alter course upward to pass to windward. Ed Danby was steering so I went to the mast and, like a traffic warden, waved my arms to indicate which way I wanted Ed to turn to avoid the bergy bits. Directing traffic at 32 knots in the Southern Ocean -- a lot of fun.

"When Innovation Explorer broke our record we were struggling through the Cook Strait, with our lead hemorrhaging in the light airs. At the time it was like having salt rubbed into the wound for us. We've picked up that challenge and at the first opportunity, less than week later we've blown their record away. It feels fantastic!"

On Innovation Explorer, 910 miles behind the leader, Peyron's and Skip Novak's boat is still running downwind, at a not very favourable angle and not very fast. Onboard they have already heard about the exploits of Club Med and "even if records are made to be broken, we're a little disappointed about being dispossessed of ours," admitted Elena Caputo. "We will have another go as soon as we find ourselves in favourable conditions again."

Club Med's distance is the equivalent of travelling from Paris to Rome, Boston to Charleston, Athens to Cairo or San Francisco to Vancouver. They are 1,300 miles from Cape Horn.

As they ride on the front edge of a system giving strong westerly winds, they're not only looking to extend their lead on Innovation Explorer, which appears to be falling off the back edge, but perhaps take a crack at 700 miles in 24 hours.

"This pace is going to last another day and a half before we hit 'the Wall', this big trough we've been chasing for the past few days," Dalton said. "Then we'll slow down but by then we should be approaching the Horn (expected on Saturday). Innovation Explorer is falling out the back of the system we are riding the front of, so as long as we stay in it we'll open up the lead big time."

Standings (at 0700 9/2/01)

1. Club Med, 7913.8 miles to the finish
2. Innovation Explorer, +910.4 miles
3. Team Adventure, +4998.4 miles
4. Warta-Polpharma, +6013.5 miles
5. Team Legato, +6,823.1 miles

First published on QuokkaSailing.com, republished with permission.

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