A few reliability problems with the new boat, but result proves she's quick, says Golding

Mike Golding and Brian Thompson have completed the 2003 Transat Jacques Vabre, finishing in 3rd position behind Virbac and Sill. After 4,340 miles of racing, ECOVER finished only 7 hours after the winning boat and 15 minutes after position 2. This race has been a fantastic test for the new Owen Clarke Open 60 ECOVER and having only sailed under 2,000 miles before the race, it has been the perfect way to work up the boat. Golding and Thompson completed the race in 16 days, 22 hours, 28 minutes and 37 seconds.

As with any new boat, reliability problems were always probable, but ECOVER is certainly a proven powerful and fast boat in both upwind and downwind conditions and will be a strong contender for its main goal, the single-handed, non-stop, round-the-world race The Vendee Globe.

Golding spoke about the new ECOVER’s capabilities earlier: “The first 5 days of the race were extremely tough, real boat breaking conditions and we actually shined. We got through that and got through it in the lead and we looked set to continue and in fact our problems began in 11 knots of breeze! The reality is that the boat is hugely quick and there’s great potential and we’re very pleased with it. We entered the new boat as its first test of capability, which I think we’ve proven and we found some problems with the reliability, which are absolutely normal with a new boat – its just that normally with a new boat you chose a more gentle test to work the boat up, we chose to enter it into a top fleet race and to some extent we suffered for that in the race, but our plan now is about competing in the Vendee Globe. Between now and then we have 2 very heavy races to enter, which will help form the crux of the experience and the work we need to complete before the Vendee.”

From the very start of the race, ECOVER powered away from the rest of the fleet in upwind conditions and held its own comfortably at the front of the race through 5 days and nights of gales with 45-50 knots of wind. Other boats were forced to pitstop around the French and UK coastlines, but ECOVER sailed faultlessly through the storms, with only a broken batten on the mainsail to fix.

After 7 days of leading the Transat Jacques Vabre, day 8 brought misfortune for ECOVER, when two masthead halyards chafed and broke and ECOVER lost two spinnaker sails in the process. Golding and Thompson had to free the sails from round the rudders and keel and Golding climbed the rig again to attach an external halyard system. ECOVER lost its lead, but has not left the top 3 ranking since. On day 11, ECOVER lost their 3rd and final spinnaker, which was to hamper progress later in the race – the approach to Salvador always requires the use of a spinnaker. From day 12 until today, other boats have been using spinnakers intermittently, but ECOVER has still been able to gain on the boat in front.

Having climbed back into 2nd position, on day 16 a runner breaks away from the mast, forcing Golding to climb the mast yet again, this time to reattach the rigging with a vectran strop. This slipped Golding and Thompson back into 3rd position, but did not stop them from fighting. Day 16 onwards, ECOVER and Sill battle it out for 2nd place, not letting up for a second – fantastic proof to Mike Golding Yacht Racing and the Owen Clarke Design Group that despite progress being hampered by lack of spinnakers that ECOVER can still hold the pace.

Golding mused on the race events: “We came to a summary, that that we’ve had the mainsail down at least 6 times during the race, I’ve been up the rig 3 times. We’ve been stopped or making very slow progress for many, many hours, maybe as long as 8 hours, we’ve had rigging failure and we sailed most of the race with no spinnakers because of the equipment problems. We only actually had spinnakers for 24 hours, so given all those scenarios we have to be very comfortable with arriving in 3rd place with such a high quality fleet. Later on in the boat’s life, this is definitely one that the boat could have won.”

Brian Thompson talked about how he has found his first transatlantic race on an IMOCA Open 60: “the boat’s been absolutely brilliant. For its first race its done fantastically well. It’s been a very, very tough race for it, and it really shone on the tough part and we were unlucky on the lighter part of the race with some equipment problems, but basically its an amazing boat.” When asked about the duel with the other Thomson (no P!), he commented, “It’s great for the British entries to be so strong in this race – 2nd and 3rd for Britain, plus the rugby as well – its not bad for us!”