Slow day for the front runners
After a headbanging few days heading up the North Sea and around the top of the Shetlands, so over the course of the last 24 hours the leaders in the Sevenstar Round Britain & Ireland Race have had to tackle a zone of high pressure. Both of the leading VO70s, Groupama and Telefonica Blue have been sailing at single digit speeds all day with the Spanish boat closing marginally on the French team, however over the last couple of scheds, Groupama has managed to cross the ridge and is into stronger breeze. At the latest sched she has recovered to 26 miles ahead of Telefonica Blue and we can expect more to come until the Spanish get out of the sticky stuff.
With the leaders being first into the ridge, so this allowed Artemis Ocean Racing to close to within 55 miles of Groupama this morning, but since then she has slowed and the margin is back up to 80 miles. Jonny Malbon, Simon Hiscocks & co on board the IMOCA 60 have been sailing very well and at 0100 regained the lead overall under IRC, although since pulling into the ridge this has flipped back to Piet Vroon's Ker 46 Tonnerre de Breskens.
At present Tonnerre is on the approach to Muckle Flugga that will see her round the northernmost part of the course, just 20 miles astern of TP52 John Merricks II. The RYA Keelboat Academy lads lost out big time when they had to spend six hours on a losing tack heading west towards the Shetland Islands this morning. They are down to sixth place under IRC now.
Luke McCarthy reported: “The mood is a lot better today on JMII, it was a pretty long slog up the North Sea in about 20 to 35 knots of wind so pretty cold and wet and miserable all the way up there. Today the wind has calmed down a bit and we’re now down to a full mainsail rather than the two reefs which is what we’ve had throughout most of the North Sea. A little bit of Scottish sunshine has come out today so everyone is a bit more back in the mood for it, now the majority of this slog in the North Sea is over and we’re hopefully now just three or four hours away from rounding the NW corner of the course.
“We’ve come up with some alternative names for the Muckles Flugga (the rock which marks the most NW corner of the course) but we can’t really share those with you! They’ve been trying to find the most appropriate song to recite as we round but I’m not sure where we’ve got to with that.
“Nothing major planned I don’t think as we round, just excessive relief really that it’s downhill, or at least it feels a bit more like that and certainly from a wind point of view we’ll be going a little bit more downwind than we’ve had, and obviously generally going closer to home rather than way up north.
“We’re not really sure exactly where the other boats are but I think we’ve been a bit further out east, a bit too far east really, other than that we’ve been pretty much hard on the wind since changing course.
“It’s been pretty cold and wet and we’ve had quite a few waves over the boat so everything is completely soaked on deck and there’s quite a lot of water ending up down below through sails coming up and down and people coming up and down. We’ve ended up sailing with the wash boards in the companion way to stop so much water coming down the hatch.”
Weather-wise, the VO70s are not out of the woods yet as the ridge is set to move around overnight and is likely to catch them again before they get to St Kilda, however the European model has it moving east tomorrow morning causing the wind to veer around to the north, before consolidating in the northwest at 20 knots, allowing the leaders to turn on the afterburners as they head for the west coast of Ireland.
Conditions are lookin good until Monday when the boats passing the west coast of Ireland will find themselves sailing into another area of high pressure.