Round Britain update

James Boyd spoke to race leader Roger Barber

Thursday June 13th 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

The leaders in the Royal Western Yacht Club's Round Britain and Ireland Race left Crosshaven last night, on the second leg of race from southern Ireland, up round the west coast of Ireland towards the Outer Hebridean island of Barra.

Roger Barber skipper of the 30ft John Shuttleworth-designed trimaran Meridian, the present race leader, described to madfor sailing the bumpy first leg that had seen almost half of the fleet retire, including the two race favourite's Gleam and Spirit.

The start had seen Barber and his co-skipper Malcolm Whitehead reach the Eddystone light in third place behind Gleam and Mollymawk, and alongside Spirit. After rounding the Eddystone they tacked on to port and headed inshore. At the time of the start on Sunday it was blowing F5 from the south west and the wind built to force 7 gusting 8 - on the nose all the way to the Bishop's Rock. "There was a very lumpy horrible sea," reported Barber. "It was a wet horrible night, but thankfully it was not too cold."

Sailing upwind in a force 7 on a 30ft trimaran, with an exposed cockpit and the accommodation in the narrow centre hull little larger than a coffin, was no mean feat. "It was bouncey, harsh. There were a lot of hard bangs," described Barbour. "The boat shudders when you hit waves. You have to hold on down below. We didn't get too wet down below. We were mostly wet down there because it was raining the day before the start! We plodded away during the night, in the wet and spray, but she coped with the conditions extremely well".

As the boats around them fell by the wayside Meridian knuckled down enduring the conditions at an easy pace. "We had two reefs and full jib and then we rolled the jib to half," said Barber. "When it picked up to 7, we rolled the jib up to a pocket handkerchief as we hadn't rigged the storm jib on deck. To be honest we went quite conservatively, plodding on, trying not to fall off waves."

Come Monday morning as the wind abated they saw several 35-40ft monohulls and assumed that by taking it easy over the night they'd dropped half way down the fleet. "After we rounded Bishops we accelerated up to 10-12 knots," recalled Barber. "We had a cracking run across from Bishops. By the time we came in we were touching 19 knots".

Barbour said that it was only when they got in on at 11pm Monday night that they realised they were in first place. "We weren't expecting to do well."

With Spirit and Gleam retiring, Meridian's main competition now comes from Ross Hobson and Andrew Newman on the 40ft trimaran Mollymawk. Mollymawk and Meridian first locked swords in the 1988 OSTAR when Mollymawk was called MTC and was raced by her designer Nic Bailey to a class win in that event. Meridian at the time was called Caledonia and was sailed by Scot Rod Stuart. She still holds the 30ft class record for the singlehanded transatlantic race. More recently Mollymawk won the last Round Britain & Ireland Race in the hands of Richard Tolkien.

Mollymawk arrived in Crosshaven four hours after Meridian having split her jib. The blast reaching conditions across to Ireland from Bishop's Rock required full jib, but they were forced to use a storm jib. During the stopover in Ireland the jib was repaired - fortunately it was a clean split about 6ft down from the head - and if conditions are right there is a good possibility she will overhaul Meridian on this next leg.

"It depends upon the conditions," said Barbour about this prospect . "It would be nice to think I could get to Barra before them. If they get swells they can use their length and they can go a lot faster. But I can keep the boat optimised better. I'm on a smaller boat. One person on deck can keep her trimmed better. The mainsheet and traveller can both be trimmed by hand, so I can adjust my rig quicker."

Meridian should get into Castle Bay, Barra sometime on Friday night.

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