Global Challenge yacht crews face 30kt winds for start of transatlantic challenge 15/8/06

The Challenge Transat 2006 got off to a brisk start on Sunday afternoon, with the two 72ft Global Challenge race yachts crossing the Solent start line at 1400h for the beginning of a Leg 1 match race 3,200 miles across the North Atlantic to Marblehead.

First across the start line at South Ryde Middle was Pindar, skippered by Jim Allen, followed just 10 seconds later by Spencer Dock skippered by Stewart Richardson, both with two reefs in the mainsails in the fresh northerly breeze, which was gusting up to 30knots.

After just two hours of racing on a fast reach and with favourable spring tides, the two yachts were at the Needles, with only a boat length between them.

On board, the amateur crew is made up of men and women from all walks of life from a student to a doctor, a research chemist to an insurance broker, and drawn from nationalities as diverse as, Russia, Denmark, Canada, the USA, Ireland and Great Britain – and even as far away as Australia! Nearly sixty percent of the crew have never sailed yachts before undertaking training and are now starting out to surmount the notorious racecourse of the North Atlantic Ocean.

The only professionals onboard are the skipper and two mates, making up a crew of sixteen for each yacht. Sarah Etherington, crew onboard Pindar said commented: “Right now we are enjoying the sunrise with Spencer Dock a speck on the horizon. Land’s End is faded out visible in the distance, however, we expect this to change by lunch time”.

After 24 hours, the yachts have covered 220 nautical miles, a significant distance for the 40 tonne Challenge yachts designed for the heavy weather conditions of the Southern Ocean. Crucially, there is less than a mile between the yachts, with the two reporting the first waypoint within two minutes of each other.

Challenge Business Technical Director, Matthew Ratsey said: “This ranks as one of the quickest 24hours at the start of any Challenge race – they have even reached the Scilly Gate in well under 24 hours. They are currently experiencing ideal conditions, with the strong northerly winds creating quite flat seas, which is allowing them to make fast progress in the right direction.”

The current weather patterns are unusual for this time of year, with the normal pattern of North Atlantic High and depressions tracking across the Atlantic disrupted.

So what is traditionally an upwind voyage will start with a fast reaching and downwind leg.

Challenge Business’ Sailing Manager Cal Tomlinson added: “The UK current weather is dominated by a High Pressure System centred to West of Ireland, so after the fast start, the yachts will be on a bit of an upwind fight on a starboard tack, with winds of up to 25 knots backing to the east-north-east”.

“Looking ahead, as the High Pressure system moves east, the wind will veer north-north-east and gain in strength over the next three days – providing fast reaching conditions all the way until Thursday.”