Groundhog Day for Transat teams, but there's a frisson of urgency - or is that the prospect of Anna Kournikova?
It’s Transat Groundhog Day again. Yet another immaculate, sunny day in Plymouth and more fixing, stowing, grinding and preparations large and small. There is an air of controlled busyness, as before, but today a vague air of urgency is beginning to creep in.
The Gitana 11 trimaran team and the two American Open 50s, Kip Stone’s Artforms and Joe Harris’s Wells Fargo American Pioneer, have been out on the water testing, using the last opportunity before the fleet is locked in alongside the pontoons at 6pm this evening.
There was great disappointment but no surprise this afternoon when Jean Le Cam announced that he is withdrawing Bonduelle, his new Open 60, because of a keel problem that has affected sistership Sill. His boat apparently hasn’t experienced these problems, but the same design or engineering flaws are assumed to exist.
The mood is generally upbeat and the view is that Offshore Challenges have done a very good and imaginative job with their first grand prix. They have taken all the best elements of the big French races – the public access, the race village, the big league media facilities – and added good ideas of their own. The OSTAR as was has definitely come of age as a modern sporting event.
But don’t take our word for it. The pontoons here at Plymouth Yacht Haven (on the Mount Batten side of Plymouth) are open to the public between 1100 and 1600 throughout this weekend, and the public are begin to arrive, albeit in modest numbers.
Ellen MacArthur has arrived, too, and will be sailing this weekend with Anna Kournikova, who is going to start the race on Monday. The prospect has caused a definite frisson – as we all know, yacht races in the UK are traditionally started by superannuated Near-Admirals and female royalty with stormproof hairdos, not athletic lovelies renowned for flashing their knickers. But who’s complaining? Vive la différence.
If there is a cloud of the horizon – excuse the pun – it’s the uncertain weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday. Weather models disagree about the strength of wind that can be expected, but several are predicting that the centres of two low pressure systems will meet to the west of Ireland on Monday. The software package used on many of the boats here, MaxSea, is showing horribly tightly packed isobars and forsees it spinning off winds of 40-45 knots by Tuesday.
If that happens, the fleet will get rocky cross-seas after the wind veers and, with such a highly strung fleet as this, that usually spells gear failure. The first two or three days will shake up and shake out the fleet. Which brings us back again to that fixing, stowing, checking and rechecking. Tomorrow will be just the same, but with occasional showers.