by Louay Habib
Organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race is undoubtedly one of the toughest yacht races in the world. While other ocean races are longer, racing 1,800 miles around a coastline notorious for highly changeable weather and wicked tides and currents, puts the race amongst the most difficult to complete, let alone win. The 2014 entries include an amazing variety of yachts and sailors; exceptional people who come together as a team to attempt to climb one of offshore racing's biggest mountains.
The 2014 edition of the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race starts from Cowes, Isle of Wight on Sunday 10th August
MOD70 Musandam-Oman Sail is hot favourite to be the first yacht to complete the course. Co-skippers Sidney Gavignet (FRA) and Damian Foxall (IRL) have put together a MOD70 crew selected from Oman Sail's elite squad of sailors, plus well-known South African Volvo and America's Cup sailor Jan Dekker - half of the crew will be Omani for the first time ever.
Sidney Gavignet knows the course well having set the Round Britain and Ireland non-stop singlehanded record in the 105ft Trimaran, Oman Air Majan, in 2010 with a time of four days, 15 hours, nine minutes and 27 seconds. However, the outright record for the course will be a tough one to better. In 2011 Loïck Peyron's Banque Populaire 5 completed the course in three days 3 hours 49 minutes and 14 seconds, at an astonishing average speed of 23.38 knots!
After racing round the Isle of Wight in the Artemis Challenge during Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week, the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race will be the first outing for the brand new fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s that have been built especially for the Volvo Ocean Race which starts in October 2014. It is the first skirmish between five professional teams: Team Campos, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Alvimedica, Dongfeng Race Team and Team SCA. The race presents a great opportunity for the crew to learn about the boat and themselves in advance of the Volvo Ocean Race. In the 2010 Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race the Volvo 70, Groupama, took monohull line honours and set the monohull course record of five days, 21 hours and 26 minutes, before going on to win the 2010-11 Volvo Ocean Race.
Ian Walker will skipper Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's entry, Azzam in the race. A multiple Olympic, America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race skipper, Ian is one of Britain's most successful sailors, but nevertheless the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race will be new territory for him and most of Azzam's crew.
'I have never taken part in this race before, nor completed a lap of Britain,' said Ian. 'It is a great race course and a perfect test for our fleet of boats in the run up to the start of the Volvo. You have to be ready for anything when sailing this course. I don't think we will get much sleep and the currents and numerous headlands will make for very tough training. I love the big starts in Cowes and I can't wait to see what the top of Scotland is like. I hope it is kind to us.'
RKJ winching. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to compete in Round Britain and Ireland Race
Sir Robin Knox-Johnston has had a glittering career in yachting and this is his ninth race around the British Isles, having established the first race record in the 48ft More Opposition in the 1976 RORC race, winning Class One in just under 11 days. Sir Robin is famous for winning the Golden Globe trophy in 1968-09 for the first person to sail single-handed and non-stop around the world. In 1994 he teamed up with Peter Blake to win the Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe while, at the age of 68 in 2007, he raced his IMOCA 60 around the world in the Velux 5 Oceans Race.
For this edition of the race around the British Isles, Sir Robin will be 75 and sailing his IMOCA 60, (now aptly named Grey Power), two-handed with Simon Clay, an experienced Open 60 sailor and good friend.
'Tactics will be dictated by the weather. There may be weather fronts and the coastal course is a navigational hazard to be avoided, but I don't get into deep analysis, I just get on with it,' commented Robin Knox-Johnston. 'I never really think about the endurance aspect of this race.
When you have spent 312 days on your own around the world, it isn't something that occurs to you; a week or 10 days at sea is just that. When things are going wrong, well it's worse for the other people because I think they will like it less. I am entering this race because I think it is a great race to do; this will be my ninth race around the British Isles and I am using it for a work-up for the Route du Rhum in November.'
The overall winner of the 2010 Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race returns, now known as Artemis - Team Endeavour. The IMOCA 60 will be skippered by Mikey Ferguson, who was on the boat four years ago, and the crew includes Jules Verne winner, solo round the world sailor and multiple world record holder, Brian Thompson.
Artemis Team Endeavour has taken part in many RORC races this season with crew including injured members of the armed forces. Team Endeavour is jointly funded by the Team Army Sports Foundation and the Endeavour Fund, an initiative created by The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.
Five fully crewed Class40s will be competing this year. Ned Collier Wakefield's Team Concise is back with a new Ker designed Class40 in an attempt to break the class race record he set in the 2010 race of nine days, 13 hours, 32 minutes and 20 seconds:
'Four years ago we competed in the Sevenstar RBI on our then new Class 40 Concise 2. The challenging forecast made for a wet and wild ride and enabled us to break the 40ft World Record. We are now back with our new Ker Class40 and weather depending, will be looking to break our own record. The race offers a fantastic shake down for our boat for the Route du Rhum and will certainly act as a great test for boat and crew. We are all greatly looking forward to being on the start line and it is always good when you get round the top and start the journey home.'
Rare, skippered by Ian Hoddle with crew Conrad Manning, hopes to be the smallest yacht to ever complete the race. The bright pink Figaro II has been a familiar sight at RORC races for the past four years, including two Rolex Fastnet Races. Ian has a real incentive to complete the race besides personal satisfaction.
'This will be the longest race Rare has done to date. It is an incredibly tough undertaking to race this course Two-Handed. We have to finish the race in 14 days or we will be out of food and out of leave from work,' commented Ian Hoddle. 'We will be raising money for the children's cancer charity CLIC Sargent as my six year old nephew James was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour earlier this year. Both he and his family, who live on the Isle of Wight, have been supported extensively by this fantastic charity as James very bravely battles this disease. We have raised nearly £5000 so far and wish to exceed this target.'
Liam Coyne and Brian Flahive's Two-Handed team from Dublin, Ireland, on the First 36.7, Lula Belle, see the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race as the next big step.
'We see this as a real challenge. Offshore sailing is an adventure sport and just as a skier wants to progress to the diamond slopes or a mountaineer wants to climb Everest, so we want to push ourselves and, having done two Round Irelands and two Fastnets, this seem the next logical challenge,' said Liam.
'The physical endurance element has to be the biggest challenge for us - surviving two hours on, two hours off, shifts. Also with this watch system you spend a lot of time on your own and the loneliness is an aspect other boats do not worry about. On the water, rounding the Shetland Islands and sailing unknown waters with currents and overfalls, will be a daunting place for a 36ft boat and if big winds hit, that will be tough. The best times will be the same as always; the start line and crossing the finish but I am sure there will be many good memories in between.'
The Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race starts on Sunday 10th August from Cowes. The non-stop 1800 mile course takes the competitors around the breathtaking coastline of Britain and Ireland, including the most northerly point, the island and lighthouse of Muckle Flugga.