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2019 Transatlantic Race - Day 3: Fleet in too much wind or not enough

by Sean McNeill 30 Jun 2019 11:44 PDT 25 June - 09 July, 2019
David Witt and the supermaxi SHK Scallywag - Transatlantic Race 2019 © SHK Scallywag

Life in the Transatlantic Race 2019 can be summed up by paraphrasing a familiar survival-of-the-fittest saying: sometimes you're the keel, sometimes you're the minnow.

This year's race across The Pond has been so uncharacteristic that the 120 sailors will be forgiven for feeling like they're a school of minnows. Instead of southwesterlies pushing them along from behind, the fleet has spent an inordinate amount of time pounding upwind.

"It's been pretty much all upwind until the wee hours of this morning," said Carina navigator Gary Grant. "The forecast is a bit different from what we expected. This morning we thought the wind would back from the east to the northwest before dying and then filling in from the southwest. Instead, it's been veering from the east around to the southwest. Whichever way the wind gets here, fine. We just hope to hold the southwesterly to clear the ice zone."

At today's 1630 UTC position report, Rives Potts' Carina was 284 nautical miles from waypoint A3, the southeastern corner of the ice zone limit. Grant said that Carina and the J/52 True, co-skippered by Howard Hodgson and Ryan Hughes, have been crossing paths all race. He also mentioned that Mark Stevens' Kiva has been in the mix, although it has fallen slightly farther astern in the past day.

"We've just been trying to sail our own race out here," said Grant. "We've done about 25 sail changes since the start, so the guys are welcoming the respite of light winds out of the southwest. We're moving slowly, but moving and hope to accelerate this afternoon."

At the head of the fleet, David Witt and the supermaxi SHK Scallywag could also be feeling like minnows today. After storming past David and Peter Askew's VO70 Wizard and into the lead yesterday while making 24 knots boatspeed, SHK Scallywag now finds itself in too much wind, up to 42 knots from the south.

Reports are that only two crew are on deck as they are in survival mode with the rest in the companionway hatch. SHK Scallywag recorded a one-hour average true windspeed of 32 knots earlier today, and Witt hasn't slept in 48 hours. The situation is compounded because the crew is having trouble reefing the huge mainsail.

Overnight David and Peter Askew's VO70 Wizard regained the lead and at 1630 UTC today led SHK Scallywag by 74 nautical miles. Wizard was positioned 68 nautical miles at a bearing of 105 degrees from waypoint A4, the eastern edge of the ice zone limit, and had 1,628 nautical miles remaining to the finish.

The days ahead are the ones that matter, however, and the conditions look to get tricky again as soon as tomorrow. Wizard and SHK Scallywag will try and hang onto the strong southerlies at the head of the fleet while the majority of the racers, those still approaching waypoint A3, will be working to avoid the growing Azores high pressure.

"The plan currently is to get around this imaginary mark deep in the ocean and then head north to avoid an ever-growing Azores High pressure," said Chris Hanson from Pata Negra (at right), currently running 90 nautical miles astern of Jean-Pierre Dick's The Kid, which is 12 nautical miles behind Eric de Turckheim's Teasing Machine, which is about 30 nautical miles from waypoint A3.

"Our friends ahead seem to already have good breeze, and we so want this," Hanson continued. "What's positive is the majority of the course ahead looks off-the-wind, which will be good for our 'sensitive' J2 and the general dynamics of this boat as it really likes it off-the-wind. It also means it will be much more comfortable below deck."

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