Race Report #7: Day 8 by Jerry Freeman

Eight days of racing has produced an interesting tactical battle at the head of the fleet between Vento and Branec as they pass the half way point, both are fifty footers but one monohull with better pointing ability and one trimaran with higher reaching speeds. Expect to see Andrea placing a loose cover on Roger as they work through the variable winds for the next day or so; tacks are likely to be made in stealth mode after a tracker fix to gain maximum surprise and separation and the Gulf Stream comes into play at fifty west.

Comparing their progress with the 2009 Ostar times; at the end of the first seven days the eventual winner, La Prommesse had 1500 miles to go and Vento had 1577 this time, Pathway to Children had 1792 to go compared to QII’s 1715 in 2009, so the pace is slightly slower but still very good as 2009 was an exceptionally ‘fast’ year.

The weather prospects for next few days are not great, Aeolius decided to give the fleet a second bashing over the weekend with a strong southerly ahead of a cold front laying north to south along 27 west longitude and to follow that with a frustrating four days of light and variable airs which will dramatically reduce the daily miles made good. The only solution in these conditions is to hand steer and trim for every wind change just as you would on a Sunday in the club races but this one is three days long not three hours.

Skippers have reported a few problems through water ingress and wear and tear that are reducing the efficiency of all systems. The electrical self-steering is most at risk and those with back-up windvanes have already put them into action while wind generators suddenly become vital power sources when the black boxes all fail. Accumulated gear failure over the next thousand miles may be the deciding factor in the final results.

Boats on the great circle and anywhere to north of the rhumb line have a greater chance of meeting shipping from and bound for New York and the Gulf of St Lawrence as they route from the Newfoundland to Bishop Rock(Scilly Isles) and they may be travelling at 18 to 20 knots, the AIS and Sea Me are invaluable for solo sailors in these situations allowing perhaps a one hour nap before radar targets set off the proximity alarms.

For students of the psychology of the open ocean the enormity of the challenge is beginning to sink in as the boats end their first seven days at sea and there is a daunting 1000 miles to go until the  Newfoundland Grand Banks. Dividing the task into manageable bite sized chunks is useful as the half-way mark is approaching which is traditionally celebrated with an enormous curry feast and the opening of cards and gifts from family and supporters when a solitary tear may be shed.

Douglas Adams regrettably never did the OSTAR but had he done so I am sure that he would have said; ”The North Atlantic is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.”

Jerry Freeman 04/06/2013