Transat B to B solo race from St Barthélemy to Lorient in Brittany is now in its second week. Early this afternoon Gamesa skipper, Mike Golding, and his seven rivals settled in to deal with a big winter storm which is set to pass through the north Atlantic.
With severe gale force winds expected and huge seas, the French race organisers have signalled a change of course, bringing in an obligatory gate off the latitude of Cape Finisterre on the North East corner of Spain, to keep the fleet south of the worst of the storm. This will add an estimated 115 miles to the course for Golding. The decision was taken after consultation with all the skippers who reached an agreement that the prudent course was preferable, given that all of them have the same schedule in preparing for next year’s Vendée Globe start.
The limited strategic options inherent in this transatlantic course means so far it has been mainly a boat speed test and a chance for the skippers to build trust in themselves and their boats in this phase of testing and trialling, looking to build the ultimate reliability in their IMOCA 60s.
With the 4,330 miles Transat Jacques Vabre two-handed race completed to Costa Rica and now nearly half of this return solo race under his belt, Golding has been in good spirits, but admitted that the choice to change the course and add miles to the route, was a temporary blow to his morale.
Golding may today have had to deal with a few extra miles added to the course distance, but he is generally pleased with the way the race has gone so far, and the performance of Gamesa which was substantially updated and only relaunched in mid September.
'So far, I think the race has gone well. It has been frustrating as we have spent so much time sailing north and not on an obvious course home. We have had to do that as there was no wind in the middle of the Atlantic. Now when we finally have turned east, the weather building up behind is severe.
'While I 100% agree with the decision, I find it frustrating. My reaction this morning was to drop the bows and get some sleep. It is no-one's fault, it is the right thing to do, but it is frustrating.
'Otherwise, I think everything about the boat now is very positive. in the 5-25 knot mid-range, we seem to be absolutely fine. In the really tough stuff, I think we are fine too but in fact I am loathe to really go there at the moment because the last time I did that the rig came down [in the 2008 Vendée Globe]. So I don't want to go there at all!
'Conditions last night were extremely reminiscent of conditions I had the last two times in the Southern Ocean, so you can understand my hesitancy to really push it that hard at this stage in a build-up race, which is to prove boats and equipment, not about getting a result,' he concluded.
Mike talked through the balance between the routing the computers onboard provide from the weather data versus safe sailing.
'We were expecting this route [heading North]. We have been sailing a lot of extra miles to dodge an area of light winds in the middle of the Atlantic. When our routing does the calculations it doesn't have a conscience about sailing all those extra miles because when it gets us there it would be fast sailing. The reason we came North is because of this big system coming in, and the one we are underneath. The routing programme works on theoretical speed and theoretically if it is blowing 50 knots, we could be doing 30 knots, but realistically you just can't do that.
'Most people's routing will adjust, and it is always tempting to go with it, but there are some conditions when you can do 30 knots and some when you can't even do 15 knots as it is just too dangerous.
'The minute I got the phone call last night from the race organisers, and realised we were on a different mission it was de-motivating as I had done quite a lot of preparation work for the heavy weather, so I went to bed and went to sleep for a couple of hours. I feel really refreshed now, have shaken out a reef and am back to full effort.'
Having now raced for 24-25 days in most wind and sea conditions, Golding looked back at what he has learned about the speed of Gamesa compared with the rest of the fleet.
'We aren't slow, so despite a sense that the newer boats have a speed edge and that is clear on the polls, somehow we keep pace with them. On a race like this, where you are now very confined, the whole thing is a simple drag race as you have the confinement of going north and now the way point. What it does do is limit the tactical options, how you get over and around the actual speed differential. Having said that I wasn't doing anything magnificent tactically, I was middle for diddle.'
'I am looking round the boat and there is very little wrong. Generally the boat is in really good shape and that is really positive. If you look around the fleet, I think we are better shape than most.'
Golding, and the rest of the Transat B to B fleet are expected into Lorient this weekend, from 16 December. Mike Golding website