In searingly hot weather in St Malo, the final preparations are being made to the seven yachts about to start Sir Chay Blyth’s new EDS Atlantic Challenge. The race for Open 60s, which goes to Germany, the UK and the USA, is the first major meeting of some of the leading yachts and skippers who last locked horns in the Vendee, but this time they are fully crewed.
Ellen MacArthur (Kingfisher), Roland Jourdain (Sill), Mike Golding (with new sponsors Ecover) and Josh Hall (Gartmore) are here. So, too, is Fila – though with Andrea Scarabelli as skipper rather than Giovanni Soldini. Two new faces for this circuit are French sailor Loic Pochet on La Rage de Vivre and Helena Darvelid with an all-women crew on AlphaGraphics.
The race, which starts at 1800 local today and stretches until almost the end of August, takes the boats to Hamburg, Portsmouth, Boston and Baltimore before returning to St Malo on 22 August. The event is in start contrast to Sir Chay Blyth’s BT Global Challenge and, with only five or six crew on each boat, there appear to more organisers than sailors. “It’s a different experience and a huge learning curve for us,” comments Sir Chay Blyth, “but in some ways they are less demanding because they organise themselves and their crews.”
The preparations for racing single-handed yachts with a crew have been tackled in various ways. “There’s been two different approaches,” says Nick Moloney, who is co-skippering Kingfisher with Ellen MacArthur. “There’s the Mike Golding approach and the Josh Hall approach, which has been to arrive at the start with a boat fresh out of the shed. Ours has been to go to regattas to develop a technique to sail these boats fully crewed.”
The short course grand prix regattas in Fécamp and Quiberon at which Kingfisher and Sill fought it out earlier this summer have, says Moloney, taught them valuable lessons which they believe will give them an advantage here. “We had very strong winds and it’s been quite hard on the boat. Small technical problems have been compounded by hard racing.” One was the demand on the electrical systems by the continuous working of the canting keel. “We drained our batteries by short tacking and had such dangerously low power in Quiberon that it affected the calibration of the instruments,” he says.
In each of those regattas, Roland Jourdain’s Sill came out on top. “They dealt us a sailing lesson,” says Moloney. “We saw holes in our sail inventory and we’ve altered dramatically our sailing technique, how we steered and how we work things in the cockpit.”
The sailing programme on the run-up to this race isn’t the only difference in approach of the various teams. Some crews are relatively fixed, such as Kingfisher’s. Their core crew includes Mark Turner and Australians Anthony Merrington and Adrienne Cahalan. Ellen will be on board for the first three legs. Others, like Josh Hall have elected to use a wider range of talents, changing several of the crew for each leg.
His crew is the closest to an all-stars line up. “I’ve tried to recognise holes that I have in my repertoire,” he says. “This is grand prix style and is weather dependent and my weakness has been the weather. Where others have accelerated their knowledge, I haven’t. Rather than trying to learn, I’ve imported the talent I’ve needed.”
His and his Spanish co-skipper Javier Sanso are joined for the first leg by Italian navigator Paolo Manganelli and Gilles Chiorri, a top Figaro sailor, one of France’s best weather experts and local knowledge for what will be a very tactical course. For this leg and the next to Portsmouth he also has Christophe Auguin. “His talents are unquestionnable,” says Hall. “He is the most successful Open 60 sailor. I doubt if anyone will ever match his trio of round the world wins.”
Mike Golding has elected for a more fixed crew, with Graham Tourell and Alex Sizer from his team,