How a 36-hour position report blackout in the Artemis Transat will up the ante


Secrecy, and the machinations that go with it, is to be an official part of the race strategy of the Artemis Transat. The race organisers of the solo race from Plymouth to Boston are going to impose a 36-hour blackout on position reports from the fleet when they see a tactical crossroads ahead.

This “interesting idea”, as race favourite Michel Desjoyeax calls it, will turn back the clock on tracking technology that has allowed the public and racing rivals alike to see competitors’ moves every few hours. The blackout will cloak tactics in mystery and encourage the skippers to use the period of invisibility for some covert moves.

These sorts of secrecy tactics already go on. In race fleets that are tracked it is commonplace to delay a gybe, say, until just after a position report. Nav lights may be turned off temporarily to black out a tack or gybe if another boat is in sight, and the active echo transponder switched off. Solo skippers are all adamant that they would not compromise safety, but if they think the risks are low, they will sometimes choose to make themselves invisible.

Misinformation plays its part in an ocean race as well. Skippers fail to mention damage that may be holding them back, or they reveal it days after the event. They may send back exaggerated reports about grappling with a spinnaker in 35 knots to psych out others.

Sam Davies (pictured above), very familiar with these strategies from the hothouse world of Figaro racing, says: “You might report losing a spinnaker when you’re hanging in with the others, or not report losing one. Reporting breakages is really tactical and it depends on the situation or because you don’t want your family or sponsor to be worried.”

Some skippers talk to, or email each other. Sam will be talking to Dee Caffari and some of the French skippers, but only about general things. “It’s all censored,” she admits.