With a day and a half to go, the three-way battle to be first home in the Transatlantic Race 2015 has changed complexion, with Bryon Ehrhart’s Lucky taking the lead on the water. Yesterday afternoon the Reichel/Pugh 63 finally passed the giant schooner, Mariette of 1915, a vessel twice her size, but some 93 years her senior.
Lucky, also favorite for handicap honors, had 312 miles left to sail at 1000 EDT (1400 UTC). Yacht racing wisdom would dictate she should now keep herself between her competition and the finish line off The Lizard. Instead she chose a different path and this morning appeared bound for southern Ireland rather than southern England.
The reason for this is that there remains one final challenge all three boats — Lucky, Mariette and Clarke Murphy’s 100-foot maxi Nomad IV — must tackle: a patch of light or no wind hovering around the Scilly Isles/Land’s End. For Lucky, this is the worst scenario with Mariette and Nomad IV likely to close from astern in strong wind ahead of a cold front. Should Lucky get trapped in a wind-less hole, Nomad IV could weave a path around her and claim bragging rights as the first boat across the finish line.
To avoid this, Lucky is heading north where she can remain in stronger winds for the longest period. Conversely Mariette is now on a more southerly course. Last night at 2200 UTC (1800 EDT) she crossed some 15 miles astern of Lucky. This morning, Mariette and Nomad IV were on parallel courses with the schooner some 46 miles north of the 100’ maxi, which is the most southerly of the three boats closing in on the finish.
Mid-morning the three horse race nearly became a two horse race. As Nomad IV’s Clarke Murphy recounted: “I was at the wheel in pea-soup fog, no visibility, going 15 knots. All of a sudden I see, 10 meters off the bow, a huge breaching whale and I scream ‘whale’ — I have hit whales before in previous trips. So I shoved the wheel to windward and we passed two to three meters by a floating 40-foot container covered in barnacles on the port side. We were so close, you could see its registration number.”
Going nearly head to wind caused the spinnaker halyard to explode, causing the team’s Code 0 to topple into the water. Fortunately it was recovered without incident and Nomad IV recovered and continued, albeit with the crews’ hearts still pounding.
“A container floating is always my greatest fear,” said Murphy. “If I had a clot in any valve of my heart, it has been flushed through successfully…”
Meanwhile the mood has lightened at the back of the fleet after the race’s four fastest boats endured a windless 48 hours.
In search of breeze, navigator Stan Honey got the crew on Jim and Kristy Clarke’s 100-foot Comanche to head north, enabling the giant maxi to find a way through the mess. But behind, Rambler 88 had been able to cut the corner as the high receded to the south.
Despite the conditions having since turned favorable, Comanche skipper Ken Read was still vocal about the previous two days: “We finally got into the same breeze as our friends on Rambler did. They spent the last two days sailing in more wind than us. We were living in torture the entire time knowing that they were reeling us in and knowing there was nothing you could do about it.”
On a more positive note, Comanche yesterday managed to overtake Lloyd Thornburg’s MOD70 Phaedo³. Later the two boats converged around 40 miles short of the southwestern end of Point Alpha, the ice exclusion zone. Inevitably Phaedo³ pulled ahead, starting her run along the southern side of the ice zone at 0600 UTC (0200 EDT) followed by Comanche some 45 minutes later.
Later this morning Comanche was jib reaching along the bottom of the ice zone in 19 to 20 knots of wind making 24.7 knots. “The fat-bottomed girl is pretty lit up right now. If we could do this for the next few days we’d be pretty darned happy,” Read continued. “But you also remember just how violent these boats are, how angry they can be in certain conditions. And it looks like it is going to get worse.”
The four boats at the back are now set to have a relentless, high-speed run toward the British Isles at possibly record-breaking pace. “We have a couple of cold fronts and it’ll be ‘hold on fellas’ because it is going to get pretty interesting,” said Read, warning that while they would be going fast, it was also their objective to make it to the finish.
With strong south westerlies currently spanning the breadth of the North Atlantic, the freshest breeze today remained in the mid-fleet which was still seeing 35 knots.
South of the group experiencing the severest conditions was Snow Lion of former New York Yacht Club Commodore Lawrence Huntington, who is doing his seventh transatlantic race at the age of 80. His Ker 50 passed the ‘1000 miles to go’ mark this morning and was experiencing 15 to 20 knots from the west.
“We have had a beautiful downwind sailing trip so far,” reported Huntington. “A couple days of fairly strong wind, but now it is picture perfect sailing with the wind over the stern and a beautiful seascape with beautiful white puffy clouds. Everything is okay - so far! This is a good strong boat and we aren’t worried about it. We have very minor damage to a lifeline/stanchion but otherwise nothing to report. Everything is in good shape.”
Photos by Daniel Forster/NYYC