Vendee Globe - Mike Golding, Gamesa pass mid-point

Gamesa IMOCA Open 60
With the Vendee Globe leaders in the Southern Pacific Ocean, and having passed the mid-point of the Race (theoretical course distance of 24,394 miles), Mike Golding can feel that the second half of the race is now on his horizon.

The past week has been pretty uncompromising for the British skipper. After being ahead of, and matching, rival Jean Le Cam for days, Mike lost out to the French skipper not once but twice as he found himself trapped in different weather systems to his rival.

But Golding is on the comeback march today, Wednesday, as he finds a more favourable, stronger breeze and sails quicker than Le Cam’s, SynerCiel.

On the bigger picture, Mike remains objective, focused and in good spirits but does feel that he and his immediate cohorts just never had a really sustained period of fast sailing at all in the Indian Ocean.

He will be hoping the Pacific is more amenable.

Changes to the rules, since the last Vendée Globe in 2008, allow only 10 sails to be carried onboard each IMOCA 60. Fewer sails mean the skippers have to be more adaptable, using sails with bigger overlaps; able to be used over a greater range of wind speeds and angles.

In essence, a lot of this has been driven by skippers who prefer sail selections that reduce time and energy-sapping changes. Now it is easier to make choices and stick with them for longer, and of course one less sail is less weight and less to stack.

Equally so, it also means that if a skipper loses one sail, then, in theory, that loss is not felt as critically as before because the alternatives should be closer in range and it should not be such a handicap.

The loss of the Solent and spinnakers would be most keenly felt. Sailing back up the Atlantic without a Solent would be pretty harsh, as has been seen before.

In general, the autopilots have also become increasingly efficient. Skippers can now push bigger sails for longer, in relative safety - the dangerous times being when making changes. Balance is the key and it is essential that the sail can be rolled away quickly and easily under pressure and often this will be an essential part of the original sail design brief.

And so changing gears between sails, smoothly and efficiently, is part of the secret. Hence a set-up with the Gennaker on the bowsprit, Genoa on the stemhead, Solent behind, J3 on the inner forestay all set to go, is commonly seen on Gamesa.

Gringo, Mike Golding's long-standing Boat Captain talks through the ten sails onboard Gamesa:

The Mainsail has three reefs and an emergency reef. The emergency reef was an idea developed two years ago to be used when there is a lot of breeze. Crucially it keeps the head of the mainsail inside the lazyjacks which means that as it comes in and goes out there is less chance of stressful snags.

Mike runs a very generous square top main, bigger in the head area than before for reasons including the fact that the pilots are more efficient and can deal with the power. Also, there is more adaptable, achievable power when the breeze is up and down and shifting. Most of the time offshore, Mike will tack around, rather than gybe and so there is less chance to damage the battens, the headboard and so on as the Main is controlled across the boat.

Gamesa carries one kite. It is not super massive and is used from around 7-8kts of TWS [True Wind Speed], perhaps lower if seas are flat, but it will be held right up to 23-25kts. Usually the skipper will want it down before the sail wants to come down! If the seas are flat you can hold it to fully 25kts. Usually TWA [True Wind Angle] is 130-155 degs, no deeper especially under pilot. At 160 if you skew away at the bottom of a wave that can be problematic.

The A3 is the big furling masthead kite. It can be a bit unruly and messy to use at times and it does not tend to be left up longer than can be avoided when furled – usual angles are about 120-135 degrees – 140-145 as a spinnaker replacement. Range is about 12-15kts up to 25-26kts.

The Code Zero is a very diverse sail used for light upwind conditions, say 50-55 degrees, but you would normally then move on to the Genoa at around 8-9kts. The general rule of thumb is to change sails when the apparent is at 16kts. Reaching in light airs it will be held at an angle of around 120 degrees but it is a sail to be careful with as it sets off the sprit with a high luff tension.

The A7 is a fractional, high-wind gennaker which sits between the Gennaker and Genoa. Wind range is from 20+ kts to mid 30s. It flies off the bowsprit but it is difficult to have the Genoa in place behind it, so can be a bit frustrating to set and douse. Wind angles are 110 degrees to 125 degrees. In ideal conditions it is the nicest sail on the boat as it lifts the bow and the boat does the work and loads become lighter, but it is physically a big change when going from the Genoa to the A7 because they cannot be up at the same time.

The Genoa also has a wide range. Mike has probably used the Genoa more in this race than first anticipated, more so because of the ice gates. Previously he had a high clewed Genoa for the south but this sail is very adaptable, a stiff sail which holds its shape well and upwind is dropped over 12kts for the Solent. When reaching its set with the sheet on the strut right up to 20kts. It is set on a lock and is effectively a masthead sail.

The Solent is the absolute workhorse sail, the usual combination being Solent and Main with one or two reefs. It is a high mileage combination for big days with relatively easy sailing, and the Solent is also deployed during sail changes. It is a sail which would be acutely missed if it were damaged and is especially good for sailing upwind in a high mode. Range is generally 12-15kts right up to 30kts where the J3 Jib will take over at around 25-28kts. Set aft of the stem, it is hoisted to the top spreaders.

The J3 Jib is also known as the Trinquette, or is a small Solent. It is set off an inner stay behind the Solent and will also be flown as a staysail inside the A3 Gennaker to give extra stability and power.

The ORC is a small staysail which has rarely been used so far. It is usually used from about 30-32kts of wind up to more than 40kts.

The Storm Jib is as it sounds, and is not easy to set due to the nature of the conditions Gamesa would be in when you need to set the sail.

Bruno Dubois, the Vice President of North Sails has known and sailed with Mike Golding for many years, sailing most recently as co-skipper in the 2011 Transat Jacques Vabre, double handed race from Le Havre to Costa Rica. Dubois, and his company, North Sails, have provided Mike Golding Yacht Racing with sails for every round the world race since 1999.

We caught up with Dubois to hear his thoughts on Mike, the Vendée Globe and sail choices for today's round the world races.

Bruno, what are your thoughts on Mike’s race so far?

I think Mike is doing great, especially considering the number of hours that he has spent on the water since the 2011 Transat Jacques Vabre, compared to others. I think he has done well and he started better than before. Losing the penalty was tough because 20 minutes is still a pain, but I am happy he is keeping pace with Jean [Le Cam], generally, he is quick and Jean is quick and they are doing well.

I think Mike is fine and he is enjoying the race. This is what he likes and he is good in this weather. Mike puts the pedal to the metal and then works between the galley, where the coffee is, to being out in the cockpit, back to the chart table, off to trim a bit: he maintains a good rhythm.

How has the influence of the ice gates affected sail design and inventories and were these factored into the different design programmes?

Reaching sails for downwind have to be able to transition up to the ice gates now and this has been taken into account already. But it is a problem brought on by the gates. It is great to keep the guys clear of the ice, but now you see with the likes of Armel [Le C'leach] there are some very definite tactics going on through the gates which is not bad, and it is safer.

I think we will look again at how the gates influence the sail design, but don’t forget we only have 10 sails on board. So it is not too much of an influence.

Is there much of a difference between the sail inventories in terms of design and use?

The inventories across the fleet are very different. Mike is in the middle. Upwind he is normal, downwind there are different choices which have been made to sails. I cannot say specifically but some guys have been using fractional kites off the bow or the sprit, you can use them upwind a bit. That has been a difference with François [Gabart]; he has not been pushing the boat hard, but has been letting the boat do the work.

All the sails now are in 3Di we have moved from 3DL and so the sails are stronger.

How closely do you follow the race?

I see the rankings every day, every ranking. I get nervous, sure. Last time we [North Sails] had some issues with some teams, but we haven't heard of any problems yet, so I am scared while they are still in the Indian Ocean.

Mike Golding website
Vendee Globe website
http://www.sail-world.com/104852