Severe gale makes Brixham start too risky today, say race organisers and coastguard

Gale force winds, lashing rain and poor visibility extinguished the last of summer today and prompted Clipper Ventures to postpone the restart of Around Alone by 24 hours. The decision was endorsed by the skippers and Brixham Coastguard at a hastily improvised press conference this morning.

A forecast of a Force 9 easterly was judged to have made the start hazardous not just to the single-handed skippers, but to support crews transferring from the boats and the thousands of local sailors, supporters and schoolchildren who had planned to watch on the water or from vantage points along the cliffs.

Torbay is open to the east and in this wind the Brixham side of the bay becomes a lee shore. “In the circumstances, it’s just not sensible for a restart,” commented Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. “We were looking at possibly having an accident out there and that’s just not an option.”

“I thoroughly endorse this,” said Reg Hill of Brixham Coastguard, who had earlier recorded steady windspeeds of 42 knots with gusts up to 48 knots at Berry Head. “In an easterly wind, especially one as severe as this, Torbay is a very dangerous place.”

The skippers welcomed the decision. Although following winds would have given them a rapid getaway, visibility of less than a mile in heavy rain would have made crossing the shipping lanes of the Channel an unpleasant and possibly risky first section of the leg. Winds are expected to moderate tomorrow and back to the west-north-west. This will make for an easier start, though the skippers will be swapping one evil for another as they head out for a stint of hammering upwind work.

The postponement is a great disappointment to local people, who have taken the Around Alone skippers to their hearts – most will miss a weekday restart. As a stopover for a major event, Brixham could kindly be described as quirky. The race made almost no impact to start with, but it was sparked to life by local enthusiasm and the belated recognition that it might be sensible to allow the public to get close enough to see the boats. During the last two weekends, when the marina at which the Around Alone yachts were berthed finally opened its gates to the public, nearly 4,000 people came to have a look and hunt skippers’ autographs.

For one man, however, the weather has at last proved lucky. Japanese skipper Kojiro Shiraishi did not expect to finish repairs to his boat in time for the restart. Now he can.

Shiraishi is sailing one of the smallest boats, an Open 40, and was becalmed for so much of the first leg that he arrived in Brixham only five days ago. His keel (originally designed to lift, but now fixed in place) began moving fore and aft and leaking badly on the Atlantic crossing and the designers recommended replacing a 20mm steel bolt with a 50mm bolt. Drilling through the carbon fin proved frustrating, slow work and Shiraishi was resigned to trailing the fleet. Tomorrow he will set off with the others.