Tim Thomas fears that Norwich Union may have made a tactical mistake and finds sailing a BT Challenge yacht on the wind frustrating

Tim Thomas fears that the crew of Norwich Union may have made a tactical mistake:

‘We are just under 350 miles from Waypoint Charlie, on starboard tack and heading north-west on a northerly breeze. We have around 30 knots of apparent wind, which seems to suit our sail plan of one reef, no 2 yankee and staysail.

‘With this sail combination, and provided the helm manages to read the awkward, steep cross-seas correctly (I think this stuff has been imported from the Irish Sea on a bad day) we can expect to sail about 36° to the apparent wind and still keep the boat speed around 8.5 knots.

‘We tacked twice in the night in the face of the veering wind, so our track has headed south-west toward the Great Circle line. As the wind veered this morning our tack has gradually curved from south-west to north-west, skimming the Great Circle late this afternoon. We are now the most southerly boat bar one.

‘I think we have made a tactical mistake.

‘The tacking angle of these boats is horrendous. We work on the principle of around 120° at present. We have no idea why this should be, but looking at the tracks of the other boats, it appears to be a common problem. Last night and earlier today, we had the choice of heading almost due north, or south-west.

‘With the forecast showing a brief spell of northerlies, the decision was made to head on the marginally winning tack, and we went south-west. I believe we should have accepted that the northerly route was not the winning tack and got the northing in ready for the windshift forecast for today.

‘Now we are trucking north of the Great Circle, but by midday tomorrow we could be facing two days of north-westerlies, and being south-east of the waypoint is certainly not the place to be. Much of the fleet has continued to head north, and now they look set to make great gains on rounding the waypoint; they also have a much freer run in as I write.

‘The chop is making the ride uncomfortable and the flat forefoot of these boats has a tendency to slam and slap through the slop which also takes off valuable boat speed when sailing close to the wind. It is unbelievably frustrating when on the helm, especially now we are quite far north and are getting dark nights which make the water impossible to see.

‘There is also talk of moving to the No 3 yankee as the wind is set to pick up a touch, but while Blue and I are on the helm, we will probably stick with the current sailplan, and push the edge for a while. I am also secretly hoping we don’t have to do a change this watch as I really don’t have the energy or the motivation to struggle with wet canvas on a heaving foredeck.’