Transatlantic Race 2015: Storm Force Winds in the Mid-Atlantic

Severe conditions in the mid-north Atlantic have continued to punish the bulk of the fleet in the Transatlantic Race 2015.

Yesterday Daniel and Gretchen Biemesderfer made the decision to retire from the race after their Mason 43 Shearwater suffered mainsail and rigging damage. She is heading for the Azores. Similarly, just before midnight UTC, Carter Bacon’s Nielsen 50 Solution sustained damage to her rudder and was taking on water. She becomes the sixth boat in the Transatlantic Race to retire and is now diverting to the Azores, albeit without electronics, which went down in a previous deluge. 

Last night the mid-fleet took a pounding as a depression passed to their north and they were blasted by its associated cold front. During this one of the most northerly boats, Earl St Aldwyn’s Shipman 50 Zephyr saw sustained winds in the low 40s and one gust of 59 knots (i.e. Force 11/violent storm on the Beaufort scale)

From the deck of Prospector

From the deck of Prospector

“It was a little bit more than we anticipated, but we knew it was going to blow so we hunkered down,” recounted Zephyr skipper David Sharples. “It was just the front of the squalls which were a bit hefty.” During this time, while running under triple-reefed main and working jib, Zephyr scored a new personal high speed of 22 knots down one surf.

This morning, conditions had abated and the wind was ‘merely’ in the low 30s from the southwest. “We have been remarkably lucky with breakage, so far—touch wood that continues,” continued Sharples. “We are still chasing Dorade and Carina and hoping we can catch one of them before the line.”

113 miles ahead of Zephyr, the mostly German crew on the Class 40 leader Stella Nova also had a lively night. However, rather than being a fast cruiser, their Mach 40 is a pure ocean racer.

“It is a great team on board, all working together,” said skipper Burkard Keese, pleased to be rolling past 60-footers. “A Class 40 is designed for conditions like we’ve got, and the Mach 40 from JPS Production is just a dream, amazing.” No doubt contributing to boat speed in the crew is leading Class 40 sailor Jörg Riechers, who earlier this year sailed an IMOCA 60 around the world doublehanded in the Barcelona World Race.

According to Keese, last night they ‘only’ saw 40 knots and were able to eat up the miles under two reefs and spinnaker. Today the wind had dropped and they were awaiting the arrival of the next front. Generally all is well except the sails have taken a hammering and they destroyed their Code 0 during one particularly violent squall.

Meanwhile the depression and cold front that pummeled the mid-fleet is now catching up with the front-runners, who are benefitting from not being so close to its center. The lead trio currently resembles three sprinters gunning for the line. At 0800 EDT (1200 UTC), the mighty 138’ gaff-rigged schooner Mariette of 1915 was still a nose in front with 643 miles to go compared to Lucky and Nomad IV, on 655 and 683 miles, respectively. However Mariette’s younger carbon-fiber rivals will certainly pass her, with Bryon Ehrhart’s Reichel/Pugh 63 Lucky hunting ‘the double’— overall victory under IRC and bragging rights of being first home — if she can stay ahead of Clarke Murphy’s well-appointed 100-foot performance maxi Nomad IV. At present, a Friday-night finish is likely, but will ultimately depend on whether or not conditions go light approaching the Scilly Isles.

Meanwhile, there is the faint noise of V8 engines revving in the western Atlantic, where the world’s two fastest monohulls and two of the world’s fastest trimarans have been wallowing for the last 24 hours. Here the wrong sort of records are being set: this morning Lloyd Thornburg’s MOD 70 trimaran Phaedo3, usually capable of average speeds of 30-plus knots and peak speeds of more than 40, had covered just 91 miles over the previous 24 hours, or an average speed of 3.7 knots.

Over the course of this morning Jim and Kristy Clark’s 100-foot Comanche managed to find some pressure to the north and has rolled even  Phaedo3,  opening up a lead of almost 50 miles over her direct competition, George David’s Rambler 88.

Onboard George David's Rambler88 during the Transatlantic Race. Former America's Cup winners and Alinghi teammates Josh Belsky (left) and Simon Daubney surely debate the merits of getting to sleep in your own bed each evening versus a swampy pipe cot inside a carbon fiber drum.

Onboard George David's Rambler88 during the Transatlantic Race. Former America's Cup winners and Alinghi teammates Josh Belsky (left) and Simon Daubney surely debate the merits of getting to sleep in your own bed each evening versus a swampy pipe cot inside a carbon fiber drum.

“It is lovely out here!” said Rambler 88’s Australian navigator Andrew Cape with the tone of a man who spent the last hours pulling his hair out. “We had a really bad patch, but it was always in the plan, and we’ve had to live with it.”

This morning the wind was slowly filling in and Rambler 88 was recording eight knots and Cape, who has barely drawn breath after finishing the Volvo Ocean Race as navigator on Team Brunel, was expecting the breeze to fill in later today. “Tomorrow we should be smoking along, happily on our way.”

Thanks to the park up, George David’s monohull race record of 6 days 22 hours, set on Rambler 100 in 2011, looks set to stand.  However, Cape warns that the two maxis may be in for a fast run over Friday-Saturday as they scream towards the UK. Record breaking? “We could give it a real good nudge,” he advises. 

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