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Queen Mary 2 leaves French four in her wake but resists luffing

by The Bridge on 27 Jun 2017
Queen Mary 2 Jehan Ashmore
After enjoying a magnificent start from the place of its birth in St Nazaire on Sunday, the Queen Mary 2 has powered into a commanding lead of over 250 miles after 24 hours of racing in The Bridge Centennial Transat race. She has left the four giant trimarans in her long wake. In the battle behind, the veteran record-breaker Francis Joyon and his crew on IDEC Sport reeled in the young gun Francois Gabart and MACIF on Monday afternoon to lead by nine miles at the 19:00 ranking (French time).

The only regret for the Queen Mary 2’s captain, Chris Wells, is that he was not allowed perform what would have been the largest luffing maneuver in history after the starting gun sounded.

“The first and most important thing is that currently I am in the lead,” Wells, who has been captain of Queen Mary 2 since 2008, said, tongue maybe partially in cheek. “I was a little disappointed as the gun went off that I was not allowed to accelerate very fast because we had to give enough room for the four trimarans to get ahead of me to allow them to tack in the channel. I could have been like Mr Lewis Hamilton and squeezed into the space quicker but we did have the race director on the bridge with me, so we had to wait. It would have been a magnificent luffing maneuver. But, I was a British gentleman and allowed them to go first.”

There was probably a joke about he who luffs last luffs hardest, but to his credit Wells resisted. At 1,132 feet long (345m) and 236 feet 2 inches high (72 metres) keel to funnel, the Queen Mary 2 (QM2) would have cast a wind shadow on her competitors the envy of any America’s Cup skipper.

For Wells it was a more emotional departure than normal, especially as he oversaw the building of the Queen Mary 2 in St Nazaire before her launch in 2003. “What a fantastic event and there was something extra special about taking the ship back to St Nazaire, the place of its birth,” he said. But his schedule does not allow him room for sympathy with the travails of the skippers behind him.

“I will go direct, taking the minimum distance route on this Great Circle track,” said Wells, who was born in Bournemouth, grew up in Poole, fell in love with the water and has spent his life at sea. “They are on the search for stronger wind, and of course I don’t want stronger wind. There is stronger wind further north, so all four of them are taking a more northerly route. I have a schedule to maintain. I will arrive at 06:00 on July 1 and I will make the speed required to arrive there. But at least we’re going at the design speed of the ship this time, which was a six-day transatlantic as opposed to the seven-day transatlantic.”

That means Wells will average 23.2 knots covering just over 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, speeds easily within the compass of these Ultime-class trimarans in different conditions to the anticyclonic ridge that greeted them in the Bay of Biscay. Joyon has been averaging 13 knots. They may be nimble for their size, but the QM2 has a 157,000-horsepower engine plant to call on allowing her to churn out a metronomic 540 miles a day.

The good news for the trimarans is that they will find stronger winds tomorrow (Tuesday). “They have had to cross a huge area of calm stretching from the coast of Cornwall in England to the Iberian Peninsula,” Dominic Vittet, the race meteorologist, who is on board the QM2, said.

However, from tomorrow (Tuesday), the face of the race should radically change and take a completely different turn with an approaching a low-pressure system, which should allow sail racers to seriously speed up the pace. “Tonight (Monday) and Tuesday and Wednesday are much better and stronger: the boats will be closer to the depression, the south-westerly will intensify (up to 20 knots) and switch to the north-west,” Vittet added. The boats that catch these winds first will begin to open up the first significant gaps and match the speed of their steel leader.

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