Tomorrow, Saturday, 10th November, the Vendee Globe solo round the world race will get underway and British solo skipper Mike Golding OBE will be calling on all of his years of experience to make the best possible start. Golding will be among a top class fleet of twenty IMOCA Open 60 racing yachts starting the 28,000 mile race.
The Gamesa IMOCA Open 60 skippered by Mike Golding, shown here training offshore as he prepares for the Vendee Globe later this year.
Golding has seen many brutal opening passages across the Bay of Biscay in his racing career. For once, however, the forecasters expect a relatively fast, straightforward first passage to the ‘corner’, Cape Finisterre, which the fleet should pass around 24 hours after the start.
Moderate breezes will offer a quick start, but there are two key strategic decisions which will occupy Golding’s mind, one to be made around start time, and then looking ahead to a ridge of light winds off Finisterre. Skippers who get there first will likely have a smoother, quicker passage into the fast downwind sailing on the other side, whilst those who arrive later might spend more time in the light airs and lose time and miles on the leaders. And so there will be a certain amount of extra pressure through the first 24 difficult hours, whilst also keeping an eye out for shipping traffic and fishing boats.
Golding this afternoon explained the weather situation:
'There is a frontal system which could bring some wind and rain but at the moment it is not clear what time it will go through, but that might be clearer in the morning. This system will bring some rain, squalls and a shift in wind direction. The breeze will generally go right but if it comes late then you might want to be on port tack but sooner or later you will be on starboard.
'Generally it is going to go round so that you will be on starboard tack, hard on the breeze for the first couple of hours and then a progressive shift, freeing you, quite slowly over something like ten hours, then reaching as you approach Finisterre.
'At Finisterre there is a ridge of high pressure that is extending towards France from the Azores High. This is set to move south a little. Initially we will be sailing in the northern part of the ridge going upwind. The question is whether we can get around the corner and get into the southern sector and more favourable winds without stopping in the light airs. From then the routing indicates a mainly coastal course. There is a route running further west, but most of the options prefer the coast where there will be some seabreeze during the day.
'The Portuguese coast further south looks fairly good but possibly strong and fast. There will be lots of gybing and it will be quite busy. I think the boats that get through the ridge of lighter winds will be in the best shape, otherwise you could lose out dramatically.'
'I think the forecast will give a relatively benign start to the race; a chance for the fleet to get away cleanly, which is good. Knowing how much work goes into the preparation of these boats, it is really sad if boats drop out of the race early. A nice clean getaway is good.
'And then we are into the Atlantic rotation, into the trade winds, quite quickly into the warmer weather. Because you are on the Portuguese coast you do need to get west, perhaps round Lisbon. I don’t like to get sucked down on to the African coast route because then you gamble to get west at the Cape Verdes.'
Though Golding has made dozens of starts to major ocean races, the final hours and then the morning of the start day still hold a special magic, as well as a series of practical challenges: 'Today I am just trying to spend some time with the family. Tonight it is always a struggle to sleep. Your mind is mulling over what will happen the next day, even if it looks a relatively low key start.
'Going out the channel is a moment to savour. It is a great atmosphere here, as it has been for the last three weeks, and this is the culmination of it. It is very exciting but there is a lot going on in your mind.
'I don’t like the moment when the guys get off and I am suddenly on my own. Even after all these years it is still a disconcerting moment, but it passes quickly. I will just want to get across the start line quickly and cleanly and get settled into my race routine.'
Golding and his IMOCA 60 Gamesa will leave the dock for the last time at 0946 hrs tomorrow morning.
Mike Golding website
Vendee Globe website