I talked to crew member Damian Foxall shortly after they crossed the Cowes finish line to set a new record for the fastest circumnavigation of the British Isles
Sixteen minutes does little justice to the incredible performance by Sidney Gavignet’s crew aboard Musandam-Oman Sail in setting a new record in the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland record.
The MOD70 trimaran completed the course in 3 days, 3 hours, 32 minutes, 36 seconds, taking 16mins 38secs off the previous best. But it wasn’t as simple as that.
For starters the MOD70 that now holds the record is 60ft shorter than the boat that previously set the record breaking pace, the 130foot trimaran Banque Populaire. Gavignet’s Oman Sail is just over half her size.
Secondly, Banque Populaire, was not competing in a race when she set the new record; she and her crew had set out to establish a new record and had waited for the perfect conditions to do so. Oman Sail started when the gun fired off the Squadron line and had no choice as to when to start.
Although Banque Populaire’s record was an impressive achievement, this is simply something else and quite possibly the performance of the year.
Damian Foxall was among the crew and, barely out of his foul weather gear, explained to me some of the key points in this incredible trip.
“The whole trip was an amazing set of coincidences,” he said. “When we set off we didn’t expect to have record breaking conditions but as it turned out going anticlockwise around Great Britain was fundamental to the record as we were sailing around the outside of a low pressure system.
“It began with the delay to the start. We wanted to avoid sailing in sustained 40 knots and had the race started on Sunday as planned we probably wouldn’t have gone. But the RORC had a tough call to make as they had to look after the fast boats at the front of the fleet and those at the rear. But delaying until Monday gave us all a great start and we came firing out of the Solent at 43 knots, the new top speed for the boat.
“In an ideal world you would have a shift at every corner of the course, which is what we had. The only time we tacked in our 1800 mile circular course was after we had gone through the finish line and our speed hardly ever dropped below 25 knots the whole way round. Even the tides were with us at the start and the finish.”
But he was also keen to emphasise how tactical the course is and how this compares to the type of trans ocean racing that he is more used to.
“It’s around 1,800 miles from Halifax (USA) to Galway,” he said. “The [Sevenstar] Round Britain & Ireland race is the same length but is a coastal race with headlands, wind farms and traffic separation schemes to negotiate. It is much more challenging than a transatlantic race, there’s always another corner coming up.
“Plus you have to make crucial tactical decisions quickly. When you’re travelling at 30 knots a mile goes by every two minutes which means that it is critical to make the right decisions.”
So how do you operate at these speeds let alone sleep?
“It is very hard to get into a watch system. You’re travelling so fast that you are always getting disrupted,” he said. “We operate a rolling watch system where one person comes up and replaces a crew member every hour. It ensures an easy and regular flow of information rather than having a major hand over.
“Each crew member would be up for three hours, off for two and spend one on standby.
“Sleeping at 30 knots requires having confidence in the people you’re sailing with,” he continued. “When you get to a certain level of tiredness you will sleep but these boats are very very tough to be down below on. I’ve seen plenty of very experienced offshore sailors getting sick, the motion is that violent. The fact is that you can’t do 30knots and be comfortable, you just try to get some rest even if its not sleep.”
“Did they have any hairy moments?
“Not really. We pushed the boat hard, you have to, it’s the only way to make them feel reasonable. If you try to sail them with all three hulls in the water they feel awful and you risk doing some damage. They’re much better if you’ve got two hulls in the air.”
Foxall also paid tribute to the three Omani crew, Yassir Al Rahbi, Sami Al Shukaili, Fahad Al Hasni.
“Fahad has been with the boat for some time and was a professional seaman beforehand. But Yassir and Sami had very little experience aboard this boat before the race. Yet all three were an integral part of the team. When ‘it’ hit the fan from time to time and things needed to be done in the dark in the breeze and at speed everything worked and they were there.”
MOD 70 Musandam-Oman Sail crew
Skippered by Sidney Gavignet (FRA) and team mates Yassir Al Rahbi (OMA), Sami Al Shukaili (OMA), Fahad Al Hasni (OMA), Jan Dekker (SA), and co-skipper Damian Foxall (IRL)