Yesterday was a difficult day for Mike Golding and the crew on board Ecover. In light winds, which came and vanished in seemingly random patches, we began the tricky part of the race: beating through the Dover Strait. In the afternoon, we found ourselves in eery conditions in the area between the separation zones.
We were on our own, safely out of the opposing lanes of shipping, but to the north we could see a continuous stream of ships, as the accommodation blocks loomed first out of the haze. Visibility wasn’t much more than a mile and, on a flat, oily sea, there was nothing to differentiate between the water and the sky. To the south, we could hear the sound of eastbound ships, but never saw any of them.
Just as surreal was the breeze that came across a glassy sea. Not a ripple on it, but at times we were making 8 knots. It was, as Mike put it: “Like bicycling down the central reservation.”
Sooner or later, though, a chicken has to cross the road to get to the other side. Unable to hold a course that would have kept us in the middle, we nipped inside the northern traffic lane, tacking across to get extra leverage. Position reports showed others gingerly making their way through. It did not escape the eyes of the boys in Dover, who called us up to check our intentions. We heard others in the fleet being called, too.
Running a race that presents a beat through the busiest shipping route has inherent problems, and on Ecover, as on the other yachts trying to squeeze through the Strait on the tide at night, the conflicts of racing and seamanship have been plain. “There are genuine problems with running a race through such confined waters,” says Mike Golding. “It’s increasingly more difficult because there’s more traffic, more regulations – and more chance of being caught.”
“There’s racing ethics and there are seamanship ethics” he continues, “and the two don’t always go together.” He believes the dilemma was avoidable and woud prefer to see the organisers of the EDS Atlantic Challenge take a firmer grip on it – particularly as a return to prevailing south-westerlies would give another beat back through the Strait next week as the fleet races from Hamburg to Portsmouth.
“My opinion is that for the return leg the committee should decide on which inshore route the boats should take,” he says. “That would make the race safer and less likely to cause the authorities concern.”
Otherwise, life on board is good. Now the action-packed night has passed, we are on the wind and heading for the German Bight. The sky ahead is a perfect blue, the wind is steadying at 15 knots true sand we are making 9 knots under reefed mainsail and trinquette in what is the most stable part of the race so far.
The watch system has been working well. We are operating on four hours on, four off, with Graham and Nigel on one watch, Alex, Miranda and I on the girls’ watch. There have been regular calls for sail changes but, by and large, we are wlell rested and I think we will not be adding much to the sleep deprivation researches of Dr Claudio Stampi.
As for Mike, he is accommodating himself to having a crew on board his boat. Like probably all the skippers in the race, used as they are to sailing their yachts solo, it’s quite a change getting used to having five other bodies on board, all trying to do things that are second nature to them. Mostly it’s quicker having more hands, but sometimes not.
“Personally, like sailing with a crew,” Mike Golding says, adding: “Unlike sailing solo, when I do go to sleep, I really sleep.” But he admits: “I know all the nuances of the boat and clearly others don’t. I’ve done 50,000 miles worth of sailing, probably more on this boat than I ever did on the Challenge yacht. Sometimes I see things that could be done faster, but that’s what we’re out here doing – trying to improve.”