(Sunday, July 5, 2015) – Passing the eastern extremity of Point Alpha, the ice exclusion zone, yesterday evening, Mariette of 1915 has passed the halfway stage of the Transatlantic Race 2015 between Newport, R.I., and southwest England’s Lizard Point. The 138-foot long gaff schooner continues to make good progress, despite enduring gale force westerlies to the south of a fast moving depression.
Skipper Charlie Wroe reports: “The boat and drivers are loving these conditions. Halvard [Mabire, navigator] and his computer have directed us into the south side of this low and we hope to keep this strong wind for as long as possible.
“It’s a real honor to have the opportunity to sail Mariette like this across the ocean. Currently we have the jib, staysail, foresail and a main trysail up. It’s a combination we don’t use often, but it is working very well in these 30-knot, five-meter wave conditions.”
While Mariette is now fully clear of Point Alpha, seven other boats have now passed its southeastern limit. Of these, the leaders among the smaller, older boats, such as classic ocean racers Dorade and Carina, that started a week ago, have been clinging to the great circle (i.e. the shortest route) to the finish. Conversely, the two on-the-water leaders from Wednesday’s starts—the 100-foot maxi Nomad IV and the Reichel/Pugh 63 Lucky—are taking a more southerly route.
The forecast indicates that the former group is likely to fall into light winds as the depression disappears east and they are enveloped by the ridge following it, while the bigger, faster group will experience a shorter lull before the next depression rolls through tomorrow morning. It is possible the strong, favorable southwesterlies south of this next system will propel the latter group at high speed most of the way to the Lizard.
Further back in the fleet conditions continue to be hair raising at times, thanks to the relentless strong breeze and abnormal warmth of the Gulf Stream.
“It is wild and crazy!” described Mike Kreise, sailing his first Transatlantic Race aboard his Class 40 Toothface2, doublehanded with Rob Windsor. “It is very chaotic. I twice did the Bermuda 1-2 and when you get into day five this is very similar in that the boat becomes pretty unsorted and everything gets a little sloppy because you’re tired. So today we’re going to clean up.”
Last night Toothface2 passed another Transatlantic Race competitor as if it were standing still. As Kreise recalls: “We were going 17 knots at the time and they were doing seven. I used to go mountaineering and this is very similar: These things are be endured. A lot of the satisfaction comes when it is all over!”
Five Class 40s are competing in the Transatlantic Race, three with doublehanded US crews, while the remaining two are from Belgium and France, sailing three or four up.
Toothface2 is brand new Akilaria RC3 and in the brisk conditions has already recorded 25.6 knots and inevitably has already experienced a wipe-out: On Friday the boat got knocked down during which the spinnaker was torn and co-skipper Rob Windsor took a tumble in the cockpit.
This morning, Toothface2 had just passed the southwestern end of Point Alpha. Looking ahead Windsor reckons that the next 48 hours will continue to be hairy with 30-knot winds. Despite this the Gulf Stream continues to make conditions summer-like. “It is very warm still. I am in shorts and t-shirt. Yesterday was like July 4th in my backyard, except that I was getting sprayed with a fire hose.”
While Toothface2 is expecting a two-week crossing, it is likely to be more protracted for Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy’s Swan 56 Noonmark VI. Despite being a heavy displacement yacht, she too has experienced her share of excitement last week. Navigator Stuart Quarrie described Friday night’s ordeal: “There was a horrendous thunderstorm, where the front met up with the Gulf Stream. There were some of the heaviest downpours and biggest squalls I’ve ever seen. The wind was averaging 18 to 20, knots but in some of the squalls it got up to 45 knots.” And Quarrie is a past Whitbread Round the World Race navigator. To escape this they headed south and as a result are now the most southerly boat in the fleet.
Since then, conditions have improved says Quarrie. “The last 24 hours have been really lovely conditions, fantastic. It is very much shorts and T shirts weather except when it is raining, when it is shorts, t-shirts, oilskins…and lots of sweat. The water temperature is so high that it is like a sauna.”