by Richard Crockett
Ocean racing is sometimes difficult to understand as there is life after line honours, in fact, loads more life.
Line honours is just one aspect of the race, and is often interpreted by landlubbers to be the main award and the only one to watch. Well put that assumption to bed as the real winners of an ocean race are the handicap winners – and in this race they are all still at sea with loads to sail for.
Each of the 3 divisions has a line honours and handicap winner – so although the multihulls top results are effectively done and dusted, there is lots to play for in the monohull and two-handed divisions.
The reason for handicaps in yacht racing is that not all yachts are the same as they have different waterline lengths, sail area, overall weights and underwater appendages in terms of keels and rudders, and so much more – so they are all handicapped in an attempt to equal things out. It’s those who sail the best ALL the time who tend to win. There is no slacking off if one wants to win – as winning crew are always adjusting the sails to their optimum to get the fastest speed through the water, and this trimming is constant, 24/7 for the duration of the race. The helmsman is important too as he has to concentrate to keep the boat going fast all the time, with lapses in concentration sometimes costly in terms of broaches or sail tears. And the navigator has to ensure they are always taking the fastest route to the finish.
So back to the race and what the tracker tells us right now.
Leading the race overall on handicap is Mussulo, which also leads the two-handed division. In second and third are Saravah and Zulu Girl, followed by Ballyhoo Too, the only other boat in the fleet being sailed two-handed.
At this stage Mussulo has another 7 days to go before finishing, but this is an estimate as it all depends on the wind during this period. Good winds could see them home quicker, and light winds could add a few days to that 7-day estimate.
I was expecting to see the northern and southern fleets begin merging by now, but that is not going to happen for a while yet. The southerners are not pushing too far north, with some, like Zulu Girl, already sailing south south west and her rivals due west or slightly north of west. Unless the navigator on Zulu Girl knows something the others don’t, splitting like that from the fleet may be costly in the long term. But for now she is 3rd overall on handicap – a good position.
Both northern and southern fleets look as if they are sailing towards some light weather ahead, and there’s not much they can do about that. Their biggest concern is how long it will take them to break through into the new wind.
That is the burning question and the one which will have the navigators scratching their heads for many hours yet. And as always, time will tell!