Which way is Chris Tibbs going?

Jerry Freeman reports on the opening hours of the Azores and Back Race

Monday June 6th 2011, Author: Jerry Freeman, Location: United Kingdom

Blue skies, fair winds and calm seas greeted the 59 boats taking the start for the tenth edition of the Royal Cornwall’s AZAB; Azores and Back Race, on Saturday 4 June.

Guest of honour and co-founder Andrew Bray, ex-editor of both Yachting World and Yachting Monthly magazines, made a welcome return to Falmouth for the start. Alongside co-founder and race director Colin Drummond gazing down from the vantage point of Pendennis Castle to the fleet assembled along the start line to Black Rock they must have swelled with pride at the enduring popularity of this race that has grown to be a classic in the UK shorthanded racing calendar since that first single-handed event in 1975.

This race does what it says on the tin; open ocean from the Lizard to the island of St Miguel, 1200 miles of relatively safe adventure and serious racing, for many of the sailors their first taste of the wide open expanse of North Atlantic with big swell waves, steady breezes, and deep blue ocean. They will have the chance to experience a proper watch system once the ship gets organised, happy hours perhaps, dolphin torpedoes at night , whales heavy breathing in the calms, pink and deadly Portuguese man of war, fleets of tiny ‘by the wind sailors’, the green flash, it’s all there to savour on the AZAB.

They have proper cannon at the Royal Cornwall, not a pop gun, and the eight inch bore civil war muzzle loader added dramatic sound and smoke effect for the big crowd gathered at the Castle to witness the excitement of the four class starts. First away were the fast boats in class 4 at 13.00. The wind, forecast to be 12 knots from the north east, flipped around at the ten minute gun as the sea breeze set in and confounded a lot of skippers who had their spinnaker gear set up, but all the boats got away for a clean start under white sails in a light south westerly, class one perhaps more sedately and hesitantly than they would have wished, completing the sequence at 13.30 as the breeze died completely.

The fleet enjoyed their first two nights settling in to a fast reaching under white sails as the northerly breeze built to 20 and later 30 knots on Sunday night, with wet decks as the shelter of the land diminished and two to three meter waves there was enough spray coming aboard to keep the watch keepers awake in the chilly small hours.

The fleet are working to the north of the rhumb line in anticipation of the wind backing to northwest later on Monday, all eyes are on the J/105 Taika skippered by round the world sailor and weather guru Chris Tibbs, running his routing software and enjoying ideal J-Boat conditions, he is ninth on the water, top of the early IRC calculations and sits most windward of the fleet this Monday morning.

Fleet leader Jan-Kees Lampe on La Promesse (Open 40) has set a cracking pace, logging over 230 miles in 20 hours since noon on Sunday, he holds a 70 mile lead over Destination Calais (solo) and the pursuing class 4 pack, the Dutch solo sailor will be hoping to repeat his line
honours success in AZAB 2007 and OSTAR 2009.

Global Ocean veteran Nico Budel, also solo, fired up his Class 40 Hayai (ex-Beluga Racer, Akilaria) and drove through the fleet to windward after his customary relaxed start, moving to third place alongside Wolfie’s Toy (50ft) and Jammy Dodger (J/133). It is only two years ago
that 72 year old Nico was calmly stepping off his previous Hayai, scuttled in the Southern Ocean when the keel bulb detached.

The estimated IRC order at 08.00 on Monday was

Class 1; Franglais, Quaker Girl, Stratagem.

Class 2; Ruffian, Embla 3, Growler

Class 3; Taika, Elixir, Comedy of Errors.

Class 4; La Promesse, Jammy Dodger, Jbellino.

The front runners have moved off the continental shelf edge into ocean proper and they can say farewell to fishing boats and tides.

Handicap leader Taika (J/105) logged impressive speeds over 10 knots on Sunday from which we may infer he had set a shy kite and enjoyed an exciting ride with 20 knots on the beam, let us pray it all holds together. Jbellino (J/122) reported a broken spinnaker halyard that could explain their more windward track, a tactic that may begin to pay before lunchtime on Monday.

Class 3 has close battle at the front, with Elixir (Elan 380) in second place pushing hard under spinnaker while the two HOD 35s Truant (solo) and Comedy of Errors (broken toe!) are contesting the third place.

The race is very closely contested in all four IRC classes and the superb new Yellow Brick tracker brings the excitement of the race course to a wide audience, this is the biggest AZAB fleet since 1995 and promises to be a fantastic race with potential for records to be broken
in all the classes.

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