Bumpy night ahead
The 30 strong Rolex Commodores’ Cup fleet shot off east down the Solent this morning with the wind and tide but under a grey rain-filled sky at the start of their high points scoring offshore race. The course for the 10 teams is full of zigzags taking them first out towards Selsey Bill while tonight they will be heading west along the bottom of the Isle of Wight en route for a mark off Poole Harbour. At this point the three classes will divide ready for the run back east tomorrow morning that should see them finishing off a line to the west of Portsmouth Harbour sometime tomorrow afternoon.
At 1700 BST Simon Henning’s Alice II, a Farr 45 and the longest, highest rated yacht in the race, was approaching the Owers turning mark, the easternmost on the course, while the chasing pack were 5-30 miles astern of her. It seemed likely that she was going to steal a march on the fleet as her rounding of the Owers would coincide with the tide turning westbound, while those behind would face an hour to two punching into it. Already Alice II in the GBR White team was leading the big boat class on corrected time.
The absent Gery Trentesaux, the Frenchman who was instrumental in his country winning the Rolex Commodores’ Cup in 2006 and 2002, would be proud. The First 40, Coup de Coeur, he co-owns with UNCL Commodore Marc de Saint Denis was leading Class 2 on handicap at 1700 BST as part of the France Blue team. Meanwhile in the smallest class it was the turn of the Hong Kong team with Christopher Opielok’s Corby 36, Rockall III ahead.
However the latest positions from the race course indicate that the Irish team is not only still leading overall in the Rolex Commodores’ Cup, but they have extended marginally. The 1700 BST sched showed Anthony O’Leary’s Antix second among the big boats, David Dyer’s marinerscove.ie second in the mid-sized fleet and Robert Davies’ Roxy 6 second among the small boats. With these results the Irish team would be on 44.5 points ahead of France Blue and Hong Kong tied in second on 71.5. France Yellow and GBR Red hold fourth equal, also tied on 86.5.
In the small boat class, Marc Alperovitch’s A-35 Prime Time in France Yellow was holding fifth. Alperovitch said he had been pleased with their progress. Heading down the eastern Solent they had seen 20 knots but late in the afternoon the wind had dropped to 14 knots – less than forecast. “It has dropped earlier than planned,” he reported. “Normally when the wind drops we should have a clear sky, but that is not the case at all. But maybe there is less pressure.”
Just ahead of them, the crew on board Jim Macgregor’s Elan 410 Premier Flair, lying seventh on handicap, were contemplating the night ahead and the lumpy conditions this evening heading west with the wind against the tide. “It was quite unpleasant earlier: wet and windy and horrible – good British summertime stuff,” commented crew woman Jody Slater adding that on board they were seeing 16 knots from the southwest. “It is quite pleasant now. The wave action is a little unpleasant, but apart from that is alright. It has stopped raining, which I am deeply happy about. Tonight hopefully won’t be too unpleasant. It is supposed to be wind against tide. Unfortunately as one of the people taking seasickness pills, I don’t look forward to the beating.”
Owner Jim Macgregor hadn’t achieved his plan to use his boat’s longer waterline length to shake off the smaller Corby designs. Macgregor, who pilots ships in and out of Poole harbour for a living, and is father of World Match Racing no1 Lucy, said prior to the start that his crew, including Olympic 470 sailor Ben Saxton, comprised mostly inshore sailors. “Hopefully we’ll stay awake tonight!”
This morning Simon Shaw, skipper on Michael Williamson’s Summit 40 White Heat, the big boat in GBR Red, walked the course. “At around 5-6pm we get as far east as we are going to go and then it will be a long 12 hour beat all the way to Weymouth for us, around the back of the island. The tide is with us initially and then we are against on the mainland shore just under the Needles, so there will be a lot of tidal strategy in those areas and around Poole.
“It is going to be a really dark night. It is going to be wet – for us that beat is going to be the focus of the race really and the ability of crews to keep their boats trucking through the evening period. Our boat is a little tweaky so it will be doubly hard for us to keep it on the numbers in that environment.” Shaw reckoned that they might rotate the helm and the main sheet trimmer to ensure they remained alert. They are expecting the wind to veer from the southwest back into the northwest tonight before settling back into the southwest tomorrow.
This evening as the teams prepare for a sleepless night on the rail, the British crews will be picturing the French teams sitting down below for a lavish dinner. However in fact the British might be getting the better deal. On White Heat they have a casserole to heat up for dinner, which will be eaten from dog bowls on the rail. However on Prime Time Marc Alperovitch says they will be eating less palatable freeze-dried. “I love it – it reminds me of the Fastnet!”
To date the offshore race has seen two retirements, both from the ill-fated GBR Black. At 12.55 Brian Wilkinson's Corby 40 Cracklin Rosie announced that they had blown out all of their kites and were withdrawing, while later Paul Turner's Grand Soleil 43 Artemis hit a rock on Bembridge Ledge and was returning to Cowes to check for damage.