Challenge of Netsurvey into the lead
Many of the crews were bemoaning the fact that the famous Code Zero sails are not permitted under the rules for this event. These sails, which have so enhanced the light airs performance of these boats in the past, would have been a useful addition for this 340 nm race. The generation one boats, with their aluminium rigs, were not originally set up to fly these sails as they were not introduced until the 1997-98 Whitbread Race, and the refined designs used in the last Volvo Ocean Race are not suitable for the older style boats. So in order not to give the later boats an unfair advantage, Code Zeros were not allowed as part of the sail inventory.
Sandhamn was strangely peaceful once the 258-strong Accenture Round Gotland fleet had left the dock for the 2nm trip out to the start line, where the crews set full mainsails and large upwind headsails, to generate as much power as possible. The seven-knot SE breeze was insufficient to require the boats to ballast with water. TeamRS and Challenge of Netsurvey engaged in some pre-start nip and tuck while Elanders and Atea timed their runs to the start line.
As the gun fired, Pontona Youth sailed down the start line on starboard tack, forcing TeamRS and Challenge of Netsurvey to duck behind her. Elanders Ten Celsius led the fleet up the five mile beat, clearly in the lead from Atea, followed by Challenge of Netsurvey and TeamRS in the leeward position but showing impressive boat speed and pulling away from Challenge of Netsurvey who was effected by the wind shadow of Sony Ericsson, who later tacked out to sea.
An hour and 40 minutes after the start, Erle Williams and TeamRS had taken the lead and eased the sheets slightly as they rounded Almagrundet light tower after a tricky first beat in a light and patchy breeze.
Matt Humphries’ Challenge of Netsurvey was right on her tail, just 32 seconds behind her. Elanders, although losing her earlier lead, was pressing Challenge of Netsurvey and rounded 35 seconds behind TeamRS. Thomas Blixt and Sony Ericsson was the last in this tight group 3.15 minutes behind TeamRS.
The next group struggled in the light air to find upwind performance and the Danish young sailors on Pontona Youth (+10.6) led Atea (+11.14). The youngsters on Nilorn fought hard to try and produce the much-needed upwind speed from this first generation VO60, but tailed the fleet as the leaders headed towards the tip of Gotland, with big, overlapping genoas set for what promises to be a long and testing 340 nautical miles.