Anchored up mid-Channel
At 1000 the 21 competing yachts set off on the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup 24-36 hour long offshore race, with a 2.5x co-efficient, the most highly scoring segment in this series for international three boat teams with amateur crews.
While conditions this year have been mainly blustery, the start today was in the same summery conditions as yesterday, with brilliant sunshine but precious little wind.
The race management team has set up a complex course for the offshore race, taking the boats east out of the Solent and through the Forts, before heading south to a virtual mark 17 miles out into the Channel. Once round this the boats retrace their steps north towards the Outer Nab mark, before taking a long leg east to the CS1 mark, 15 miles south of Brighton and back. In total the proposed race is 154 miles long, but it seems highly likely it will be shortened.
"I think we will drift down on the tide and we'll drift back up on the tide with some intermittent kedging!" summarised Andrew McIrvine, skipper of La Réponse in RYA Team GBR Blue of how he reckoned the race would pan out. But he also observed that the prescribed route allowed the race management team plenty of scope to shorten course if required.
Having just emerged from the meteo briefing with the Team GBR forecaster Chris Tibbs, McIrvine said that they were expecting possibly as much as 10 knots of wind this afternoon. "If we can get the north-south bit done, then at least if we do kedge we can get up closer into the shore. But kedging round the Owers when the tide is running at 4 knots isn't much fun."
Mid-afternoon the boats were still struggling to make headway down to the waypoint out in the English Channel, due south of Bembridge. With the tide due to change from eastbound to westbound at 1430 BST, all the boats were getting their easting in early with La Réponse taking the most extreme easterly route south as the faster Ker 40s, anticipating an earlier rounding, were playing out a braver strategy on a shorter more direct route to the mark.
A small problem is that this virtual mark is described as a 'port rounding' and this could prove challenging, as tactician Phil Lawrence on the Hong Kong team's EFG Bank Mandrake observed: "The big issue is that we're going to a mark out in the Channel, and we're on spring tides at the moment, and when we get there the tide will be ebbing very strongly [ie westbound], the wind will be a very light easterly, and we've got to get round it to port, which may prove mission impossible. I'm expecting a lot of issues there..."
So if crews find themselves becalmed down tide of the mark then they will be forced to kedge. On the dock prior to leaving there was much talk of this - first finding the kedge anchor and then determining how much line they should attach to it. McIrvine reckoned he could rustle up 130m on La Réponse. On CNBC in RYA Team GBR Red, skipper Paul Worswick said they were taking two 100m lengths which would allow them to set the kedge in 50m of water. "We are going to need that," he advised.
At 1600 BST Magnum III, Andrew Pearce's Ker 40 in RYA Team GBR White, was closing on 'Waypoint 1' with sistership Jonathan Goring's Keronimo on her hip and the Hong Kong team's Peninsula Signal 8 a little further behind.
The two lowest rated boats in the fleet - CNBC and the British Keelboat Academy crew on David Aisher's J/109 Yeoman of Wight, overall leaders RYA Team GBR Black - were also doing extremely well for their size and speed.
While the Ker 40s suffered in the 8-10 knot winds yesterday, Andrew Pearce reckoned that in the lighter conditions forecast for tonight the four near one designs competing should come into their own again. "5 knots is fine because we are so light for our sail area. In 8 knots, we can't get far enough away from the chasing pack."
Assuming that the boats get around Waypoint 1 successfully, then they will have to sail north with a building easterly tide to get back to the Outer Nab mark before heading east to the CS1 mark. This will be a case of making the best of the tidal gates and the available zephyrs off the shore. Fortunately while the virtual mark is too far offshore for competitors to experience a sea breeze the legs east and back might be close enough to shore for the crews to see a land breeze tonight.
McIrvine shared his predictions for this evening: "I think there will be a bit of a land breeze at night, or even some drainage winds from the harbours if you get in close enough. But there are also quite big spring tides at the moment with interesting shallow bits, so I think it's going to be a challenge."
CNBC's Paul Worswick said that the time at which they got back north to the Outer Nab mark would be crucial. "If we can't get around there to go off to CS1 we'll be kedging and then I think it will be game over for us. If we get around there with positive tide and some breeze then there's a possibility. At some stage everyone in the fleet is going to be kedging which is great for us as the second slowest rated boat."
Phil Lawrence was forecasting that the boats might see 2-5 knots during the night. "It's going to be more of a tidal race than a weather routing race - you've got to stay on top of what you've got, so very local. My prediction is that a Ker 40 or Yeoman will win."
McIrvine pointed out that in such light conditions it is much harder on the crew than when there's a lot of breeze. "It's fun to have some sun. We have been out in masses of breeze, so we have almost forgotten how to do this..." But these winds also present their own issues as the crew can start to get a little "ratty and frustrated", so a skipper has to demonstrate his or her own management skills.
Before leaving Magnum III's skipper Andrew Pearce agreed: "Tactically it is going to be very crucial getting it right, because in these light conditions a couple of miles apart between different boats you can get different winds and all sorts can happen. So the crew has to be ultra-aware for the complete duration of the race about what is going on around them. Races like this can be more taxing than even the Myth of Malham which was a tough race, but tough for different reasons. So it is going to be an interesting one."
The boats are expected back into Cowes tomorrow afternoon.