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Spain moves to the front in Leg 2 of the 2021 Hempel Mixed Two Person Offshore World Championship

by Andy Rice / World Sailing 20 Sep 2021 14:13 PDT
2021 Hempel Mixed Two Person Offshore World Championship © Mauro Melandri

Team ESP have taken an early lead in Leg 2 of the 2021 Hempel Mixed Two Person Offshore World Championship in Italy. The 10 boat fleet of Figaro 3 keelboats started out from Bari at 0800 hours this morning on a 300-mile leg through the Adriatic Sea towards the finish line at Marina di Ravenna.

Team ESP's Guillermo Altadill, sailing with Aina Bauzà, said he was relaxed about the start, predicting that the wind would shut down before coming in stronger in the afternoon. Being relaxed is one thing, being last off the line is another. The Spanish were extremely slow to accelerate away from the start in very soft breeze and found themselves playing catch-up while Italy's Pietro D'Alì and Claudia Rossi on board Team ENIT found a personal gust to cruise away to an early advantage over the chasing pack.

However, Team ENIT had held the lead of Leg 1 for much of the way from Brindisi to Bari a few days earlier. Falling into a wind hole with the Belgians, the Italian crew could only look on as the Spanish ghosted past them in the middle of the night. Altadill and Bauzà had caught the best of a nocturnal land breeze to steal the lead and take the winner's gun.

Bit by bit over the course of this afternoon, Team ESP have ground their way through the fleet on Leg 2, in points terms the most important of the three legs that constitute this inaugural World Championship. Bauzà and Altadill held to a more westerly route closer to the Italian coastline, again making the land their friend. If you look at a map of Italy and see the 'ankle spur' that sticks out of the 'boot of Italy', that's the small seaside town of Vieste. This is where the fleet were racing towards at 1600 hours on Monday afternoon, so close they might as well have stopped at one of the harbourside cafés to fuel up with a double espresso. At this point the Spanish held a two-mile lead over a tightly bunched pack that includes Belgium, Team USA Orcas and Team Sweden.

It's may not be that surprising that Altadill holds the upper hand. With 10 circumnavigations of the globe including a number of Volvo Ocean Races and an estimated half a million miles under his sea boots, Altadill is the most experienced offshore racer in the fleet. For all that experience, however, he says this is the toughest thing he's done. "This length of race means you cannot afford to sleep," he smiled. "Not very much anyway. It is very tiring, much harder than any round the world sailing I've ever done."

Part of the winning crew on board Groupama in the Volvo Ocean Race a decade ago, Martin Stromberg along with his co-skipper Lennea Floser ordered some early morning pizza to bring on board Team Sweden for the journey. Although the pizza will be cold by the time they've got around to opening the boxes, it's this kind of culinary treat that keeps morale and motivation high through the harder moments of what's expected to be a frustratingly slow leg. The breeze is expected to drop with the sun, so it could be a long night at sea.

Some teams are taking a very scientific approach to the racing, analysing the weather models closely. Others take the view that trying to make sense of weather patterns in the Adriatic Sea is a waste of time. "We haven't sailed in the Adriatic before," said Andrea Pendibene, who with Giovanna Valsecchi is racing Marina Militare as part of Team Italy. "We take a technical approach to making the boat as fast as possible, but the wind we will take as it comes."

The American crews on the other hand have employed two of the best in the business as their coaches for this contest. The husband and wife team of Christina and Justin Wolfe have been working with fellow Seattle-sider Jonathan McKee, best known as an Olympic gold medallist and America's Cup veteran but also a canny offshore competitor. For Erica Lush and Laurent Givry, Volvo Ocean Race winner and one of France's offshore greats, Sidney Gavignet, has been offering his words of wisdom - not only on what to watch with the weather but for the psychology of long distance racing.

"I don't think we could have done it without him," said Lush. "He's been phenomenal not just in coaching us with boat handling, but helping us to understand the weather patterns here in the Mediterranean. We haven't spent much time racing in this area. The sports psychology comes in a lot in doublehanded offshore racing and Sidney's an expert on that. I'm really grateful to have had his input on this campaign."

Gavignet has also enjoyed the role of coach. "I didn't get coaching when I was younger and I really see the value. It's a much harder job than I thought but it's been very interesting working with Erica and Laurent and helping them work through the challenges of this kind of offshore racing."

Offshore racing can always take you by surprise, and a rogue wave caught hold of Team GBR's spinnaker stowed on the foredeck while the boat was crashing upwind in the stronger conditions of the afternoon. Maggie Adamson and Gavin Howe stopped the boat and went back to retrieve the soggy sailcloth but couldn't get to it in time in their bid to save it from sinking beneath the waves. If there's any downwind sailing involved in Leg 2, the lack of a spinnaker is likely to cost the team dearly.

Like Leg 1 from Brindisi to Bari before the weekend, this leg is most likely to be a test of patience and sniffing out the best of a thin breeze. Everyone agrees that the race to Ravenna is going to be a slow one, with the organisers planning for somewhere between 48 hours and 60 hours of sailing time.

The race continues up the Italian coast before taking them around a petroleum platform about 50 miles from Ravenna, and then back. If the breeze is unfavourable then the race committee can cancel this section and finish the boats sooner when they first reach the turning mark at Ravenna.

For more information visit www.nastrorosatour.it.

Track the fleet here...

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