Rolling 60ft trimarans
Much as it pains me, I can honestly report that this afternoon was the first occasion, possibly ever, that a monohull has outpaced a 60ft trimaran. It's 1700 local time and up on deck on this extraordinary 93ft state of the art maxi it is still brilliantly sunny and some two miles to leeward of us are the three Nokia Oops! Cup trimarans. The Volvo Ocean 60s that started 15 minutes before us were left in our wake some while ago now, their crews no doubt cursing that they are not allowed to use Code Zeros in this race (for reasons of equality).
I feel certain that were we reaching in bigger breeze the tris would be making mincemeat of us, but as it stands at present we are sailing higher and faster than them, causing no end of satisfaction to the crew.
Part of the reason for this, other than Bols being fresh out of the box and the three trimarans each being more than a decade old, is the humungous sail area we are carrying. We are under full main, code zero and staysail, a total sail plan well over twice that of a Volvo Ocean 60 and in a wind that has been between 5-9 knots from the east to northeast, we are currently making a highly respectible 12.5 knots.
The decision-making process is always interesting in situations like this. Gordon Kay is unquestionably skipper and has final say, but there is considerable talent on board and decision seems to come from a consensus between Kay, former SEB man, Rodern Ardern, Doyles NZ boss Richard Bouzaid, navigator Stuart Quarrie, tactician/designer Hugh Welbourn and another SEBer Magnus Woxen, who has jumped ship from the 60ft trimarans to be with us.
Aside from this we have former Nicorette crewman Conan Hunt on the bow with Lars Knudsen. Richard Fryer and Andy Micklejohn are running the pit - this is the cute SEB-style central winch area between the twin hatches where the halyards, anything running aft from the mast, halyard locks and the water ballast controls are located.
Former Noonmark skipper Harry McGougan, one of the regular crewmen on board, runs the grinders. On board there are four pedestals which can be hooked up in unison for hoists or paired up for trimming. Typical one of the front two are used for trimming whatever headsail is up, the middle is for the runners and rear one for the mainsheet. We have top thugs Anders Dahlsjö and Chris Owczarek grinding, along with Maciek Jankielewicz on mainsheet and Maciek Jankielewicz.
Further aft Oscar Angervall does the traveller and runners while star trimmers are Doyles' Justin Ferris (brother of Sharon) and djuice's Billy Merrington and Ben Costello and Dean Kennedy.
On deck Ardern has just taken over the helm from Bouzaid and those who have been trimming since the start have crashed out - Billy Merrington (main) and Justin Ferris (genoa) have handed over to Andy Micklejohn and variety of people - the code zero which has been put up has not merely a sheet, but a downhaul and a barber hauler on it and then there is the staysail, hence we are running out of winches.
We have an extremely cosmopolitan crew. The majority, inevitably, are Kiwi, but Brits are a close second (equal with Sweden) with five of us on board. In addition to this we have two Finns, including the amiable multiple Olympic sailor Jali Makila and three Poles.
The start for ourselves, the tris and non-Volvo Baltic Race Whitbread 60s was at 1415. Numbers of starters I am told are down from previous years, but there was still a healthy spectator fleet turn out. With the course about 10-15 degrees higher than port tack we reached the first mark of the course, the light house at Almagrundet at 1536 (local time).
Oops! Spoke too soon. We currently have the second mark of the course, the island of Gotska Sandon, to starboard. About an hour ago the wind got up to 12 knots and we have been able to crack off a bit, still with the code zero and the staysail up although with the code zero now less barber hauler. We've been averaging more than 13 knots. This is good as to break the old Nicorette's Gotland Runt monohull record of 30 hours 47 minutes for this course we now have to average 11.35 knots.
However these conditions are suiting the tris better and all three have slipped ahead of us, the Danish-owned Nokia doing a horizon job on the two others.
Dinner (for the 25 crew on Bols) has been 'bean surprise', the consequence of which may well prove less than sociable later tonight. Made in three large vats in Bols' very smart carbon fibre finished galley, it comprised kidney beans, corn, croutons, some miscellaneous items (I could swear I saw a prawn) in a tomatoy sauce with the consistency of molten plastic but usefully laden with tabasco for added zip. Still it is warm and welcome.
2045 Position: 58 18N, 19 21E Wind: 8 knots 065deg. Boat speed: 12.5 knots.
2200 Position: 58 06N 19 22W. Wind: 5 knots 065deg. Boat speed: 9.5 knots. 8 miles to the top of Gotland "Just going past some shallow bits and a nature reserve," says navigator Stuart Quarrie.
The sun is desperately trying to set - but no chance. We are now into the perpetual twilight that will last through until the sun starts to rise again properly. It has gone light again - around 5 knots of breeze. This is a mixed blessing for us. While it does not bode well for our record breaking prospects, it means that we have made gains once again on the trimarans. At present we are 0.4km from HiQ and leader Nokia is about 2 miles in front of us. We have HiQ as an MARPA target on our Raytheon radar and as I type they have made a small gain on us.
Richard Bouzaid is back on the helm. When the wind went really light about half an hour ago we had to sit down to leeward. We've had the staysail down, but now it is back up again.
Position: 57 53N, 19 20E Wind: 7.5 knots 050deg Boat speed: 8.76. Just past the top of Gotland. Heading down to the waypoint half way down the east coast of Gotland. 70 miles to the bottom of the island.
About half an hour ago we dropped the staysail, furled up up the Code Zero and we're now going along under masthead kite and downwind staysail. Trimarans up to weather as they can't sail as deep. Hopefully being able to sail deeper will be a winning move on out part. It's reasonably dark here finally, but only 30 minutes ago it was light enough to have Andy Micklejohn up the rig spotting for wind.
Position: 57 05N, 017 52E Wind: 12.2 knots 087deg boat speed: 13.4 knots. About one third of the way between the southern tip of Gotland and the wingmark at Knolls Grund (isn't that in the Solent?) having rounded the bottom mark at 0555. At present we think we are about 30 minutes outside of Nicorette's record.
There are two trimarans ahead of us and one, Magnus Olsson on Gore-Tex behind. The boat is steaming now. Although technically we're broad reaching the boat thinks we're close reaching thanks to this amazing machine's ability to outstrip wind speed even in these conditions and point of sail.
Unable to get online all night thanks to taking a rather offshore course down the east side of Gotland.
Overnight we made big gains on the trimarans particularly on the run southwest down the bottom half of the east coast. The trimarans have to sail bigger angles downwind and put in a long gybe out to sea. They gybed back in the early hours and when they reconverged with us about 30nm from the bottom of Gotland, we were just ahead. However then the wind got up to 18 knots and the tris quickly overhauled us.
Breakfast at 0600 - porridge with strange dark lumpy bits.
Position: 57 33N 018 72E Wind 12 knots 051. Boat speed: 11 knots. En route to Visby from the wing mark to the west. We rounded the wingmark off Visby at 0918 and went on to port.
We have just been headed in a major way and tacked on it. We're now on starboard.
Soon after the last update Gore-Tex came steaming up to leeward of us and did a horizon job on us, probably sailing 3 knots faster. Broad reaching in that wind strength they are smokin'.
At present navigator Stuart Quarrie wouldn't bet on us getting the record. "It is still theoretically possible, but the wind is too far in the north, which means the leg to the finish will not be a full on beat but a long starboard, short port. But that means we'll only be doing 10 knots instead of just over 12 knots. If the wind went to the right and stayed there we could make the record. Otherwise it looks like we will be two hours outside it."
As I write this the wind has gone right, but we think this to be a local effect off the island of Gotland and won't hold for long.
Position: 58 42N 018 35E. Course 014, boat speed 11.5 True wind: 12.3 052deg.
After rounding the mark off Visby, a town on the west coast of Gotland, we went hard on the wind again not quite able to lay the mark of Almagrundet (the light house that was the first mark of the course we passed yesterday afternoon). Every movable item is up to weather. All the crew is either sat or sleeping to weather. Sails are stacked to weather both on deck and below. This is an arduous enough procedure on a Volvo Ocean 60. Bols however is some 50% long and her sails bigger to the square - her staysail is about the same size as a VO60 jib. A plus side of the stack is that it is a lot more pleasant to perch on that for hours on end than it is the rail.
So aside from the final run later this evening we have been upwind all day and it will be a question of how fast we go upwind compared to the 60ft tris. Since these are not new generation trimarans I would suspect we might have the upper hand. We are regularly sailing at 11-12 knots upwind which might not be as quick as the tris, but we are certainly going to be pointing higher.
We're in at last. Bols performed a fly-by of Sandhamn charging through the harbour at 2300 having crossed the line at 22:54:26 making our sailing time 32h 39m and 26s.
The final few hours were in stack contrast to the rest of the trip. The brilliant sunshine we have been used to since yesterday gave way to overcast greyness, giving our area of the Baltic a gloomy cast, which combined with being on the wind from the wing mark.
The trimarans got in earlier in the evening - Klabbe Nylof on HiQ at 1905 and Magnus Olsson on Gore-Tex at 2058. Their racing had not been without incidents - coming up to the Almagrundet light the Danish trimaran Nokia had been in leading when they had wondered why they couldn't get backstay tension on. On inspection down below it was discovered that the main hull had cracked vertical down the leeward side just aft of the main beam. She had been in the lead at the time.
So what was Bols like? She feels smaller than 93ft, maybe that is just familiarity. Hiking her sails around from side to side - she certainly feels 93ft... Being made of carbon fibre every sound of winches and in particular the runners being released sounds like they have been amplified many times over. But her speed is just staggering. With the possible exception of Mari Cha III, some 50ft longer, she is the fastest monohull we have sailed and the howling gale we seemed to be experiencing sailing upwind in 12 knots this afternoon, is an apparent wind phenomenon that we haven't experienced anywhere else other than on a big multihull. It was a shame that other than the trimarans there were no other big monohulls, such as the 100ft monohull Nokia to line up against.
If you live in the Baltic Bols will be coming to a harbour near you over the course of this summer. This includes a short visit to St Petersburg in Russia in July.