As a new front approaches and the speeds build again, the leaders of the EDS Atlantic Challenge fifth leg have closed up but Fila maintains her lead
The pedal is glued firmly to the metal at the front of the EDS Atlantic Challenge. Kingfisher and Fila are both around the 17-knot mark while Ecover, sailing within a mile of Kingfisher, is touching 18 knots. The extra gas has been shipped in by a strong low that has swept in from Grand Banks is bringing with it 25-35-knot northwesterly winds and these will back into the north throughout the next 12 hours.
Open 60s are not known for their comfort and this period, while good for the books, is very unpleasant onboard. Kingfisher’s skipper Nick Moloney aptly describes the conditions as ‘wet and wild’ but the motion of the boat, like a rollercoaster car, prevented too much else in the way of communication.
A more extensive message, received via the Kingfisher offices, reads: “It’s pretty windy – sailing along with winds in the northerly sector, two-sail reaching at 100 degrees TWA – the angle of the wind off of the bow – at 32 knots, with 22 knots of boatspeed on the dials at this second. It’s a really wet and wild ride. We’re expecting breeze to increase to 35 knots or more throughout the day.”
“It’s full metal jacket, ski goggle and really hard to see,” said Moloney, referring too conditions on deck. “Brian’s just taken the helm from Hervé, and he’s a sight to behold, peering through his ski goggles. He’s totally drenched and he’s only been there for 15 seconds. Cockpit is just full of water.”
Ecover skipper Mike Golding left the comms today to Conrad Humphreys, formerly skipper BT Global Challenge winner LG Flatron. The contrast in experience has filled Humphreys with awe: “Imagine this. At 20 knots, Ecover loads up, with the apparent wind soaring up to 19-20 knots. Every winch, sheet, halyard, runner and rudder groans and squeals trying to find a way to release the load. The bows raise, the helm suddenly takes grip and we accelerate. The G forces are incredible as the bows then dip and we take off … 22… 23… 25… 27… 27… 27… 26… 26… 26… 24.”
Once again, the barrel-off-Niagara experience that is Open 60 racing brings its own perils: “We just buried the bows so deeply a few seconds ago I headbutted the computer screen,” tapped a dazed Humphreys.
Furthest north, Fila is looking a little vulnerable. Skipper Andrea Scarabelli has watched nervously as Kingfisher and Ecover drive each other to the limit and they have taken 40 miles off his lead in the last 24 hours, leaving him with a scant 17-mile advantage.
These conditions and speeds raise the possibility of gear damage and a torn sail, broken batten or blown block would cost many miles and almost certainly a drop in the leaderboard. With a broken forestay in her recent past, Fila knows this better than most and concerns about her repaired main have prompted Scarabelli to order up two reefs and a staysail from Fila’s stylish wardrobe. Kingfisher and Ecover continue to be bulletproof.
Josh Hall’s Gartmore is still sailing her own race, caught between boats of her own generation (Gartmore shared the same plugs as Ecover and Thiercelin’s Activewear) and the 1993-vintage AlphaGraphics. Despite almost losing his sponsorship deal with Gartmore before the Vendée, Hall isn’t fretting about his inability to compete at the highest level: “There’s no point in doing it if it’s not fun,” he concluded.
Brows maybe furrowed at the front of the fleet but towards the back, it’s fun, fun, fun. “We have got pistachio nuts,” revealed AlphaGraphics’ skipper Helena Darvelid, “and today I have perfected the art of cracking, eating and spitting out the shells in one go, at the same time as driving the boat at 18 knots. Anne said she will need lots of practice!”