Getting the genie out of the Dover bottleneck

Even MOD70s need wind

Tuesday September 4th 2012, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

As they close the final 50 or so miles to the bottleneck formed by the Strait of Dover, the busiest shipping lanes in the world, the MOD70s competing on Leg 1 of their European Tour have continued to move well, considering they have headwinds of less than 10 knots. However they will likely slow down even more before they can escape the worst of the small high pressure cell which is effectively guarding the entrance to the English Channel.

After passing the half way point on the 1238 mile long first leg from Kiel to Dublin, the fleet remains very closely matched, all making very similar speeds – around 10-12 knots.

Winds may be light, but the pressure remains very intense on this second full afternoon at sea. Knowing that whichever crew can break through the barrier of light winds first and escape into the channel might gain the decisive advantage. Once through the light winds zone the leaders will break into a progressively building breeze from the northerly quadrant. Accelerating faster and faster, with the prospect of completing the Dover to Land’s End passage in some 12-14 hours, the key tactic this Tuesday afternoon is not to be left behind in the Strait.

Seeking a chance of additional thermal sea-breeze activity closer to the coast is one possible strategy, but conversely those erring too close to the high land may also lose out when the breeze blows from the forecasted more offshore direction.

Spindrift Racing, leaders since the first night of racing, continued to hold a delta of about five miles on second placed Foncia, but the Seb Josse skippered Groupe Edmond de Rothschild has made good inroads into Michel Desjoyeaux's trimaran during the late morning and afternoon and were less than half a mile behind.

Having proven a thorn in the side for the Foncia crew in last month’s Krys Ocean Race, it will have been a source of some bemusement to again see Groupe Edmond de Rothschild’s dark blue pattern sails looming ever larger from the horizon today.

Guichard and crew on Spindrift Racing have split closer to the English coast mid-afternoon, diverging temporarily away from the second and third placed MOD70s engaged in a Pas de Deux in the final reaches of the Pas du Calais. But with just 23 miles between first and fifth placed Race for Water, the fleet remains tightly grouped.

Ravussin’s Race for Water struggled with an electronics problem, which has meant they were initially unable to get and use high-resolution weather information. This compounded their initial errors, struggling with a bad sail change during the first late evening. But from being more than 70 miles behind, Ravussin, Cammas, Coville and Co have kept chipping away and are now very much in touch with the leaders and passed Musandam-Oman Sail to steal fourth.

Stève Ravussin explained: “We ended up on the back foot a bit around the Danish coast because we had computer problems. We got no weather files and we struggled to get it repaired. And we made some small errors making sail changes. We have sailed less than our rivals this summer so it takes us a bit longer. We still have 12 knots of breeze and we are moving okay, but this will not last. It will drop and change in direction. There is a bit of a level crossing at Calais and it is better to lead out of it. But the corridor we are stuck in is not wide and so there are no real options to take. We just need to find even a little extra breeze to be faster and get out of here.”

Bringing up the rear aboard Musandam-Oman Sail, Brian Thompson reported: “It has been great upwind sailing across the North Sea the last 24 hours - flat seas and 10-18 knot winds..We saw Groupe Edmond de Rothschild in the morning yesterday; and although we went entirely different routes all day, and were up to 50 miles apart, we saw them again in the evening! this morning can see them about 6 miles away - exciting racing.

"Everyone is concentrating on getting the best speed out of the boat, and we can see that today is a critical day as the wind is going to tumble near the Thames Estuary and the fleet is likely to compress - Who gets out of the light patch first may have a lead till approaching Ireland: Impressive is the number of ships and oil/gas platforms; at times the view is more like a cityscape than a seascape..Spectacular as the sun rose this morning.”

Standings at 1245 UTC
1- Spindrift Racing (Yann Guichard) at 504,4 miles from Dun Laoghaire
2- FONCIA (Michel Desjoyeaux) at 7,1 miles from leader
3- Groupe Edmond de Rothschild (Sébastien Josse) at 7,4 miles from leader
4- Race for Water (Stève Ravussin) at 14,1 miles from leader
5- Musandam-Oman Sail (Sidney Gavignet) à 16 miles du leader

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