Transatlantic Race 2019. Fleet Contending with Light Patches and Gulf Stream

The conditions on the open Atlantic Ocean are far from white knuckle, but the tactics playing out in the Transatlantic Race 2019 are never more interesting.

It’s perhaps due to the lack of screaming conditions that the action is so compelling. Rather than dodging waves and squalls, the fleet is scampering around light patches while setting up for the effects of the Gulf Stream.

At the head of the fleet the supermaxi ‘SHK Scallywag’, skippered by Australian David Witt, seems to have sailed itself into a corner from which returning is going to come at a hefty price.

Some 48 hours after the race start, ‘SHK Scallywag’ was about 170 nautical miles due west of the waypoint A2 marking the southwestern corner of Point Alpha, the ice limit zone. ‘SHK Scallywag’ was 146 nautical miles north of ‘Wizard’ on a bearing of 338, but was making 14.6 knots boatspeed on a heading of 156 degrees.

That has put David and Peter Askew’s ‘Wizard’, the Juan Kouyoumdjian-designed VO70, into the virtual lead on the water. ‘Wizard’ is south of the rhumbline sailing at 15.1 knots on a bearing of 106 degrees in south/southwesterly winds around 10 knots. Wizard, however, is far from in the clear as the crew attempts to slither between two patches of light wind.

‘SHK Scallywag’, meanwhile, hopes to get to rhumbline or south of it before tacking back to starboard. But a light patch of wind awaits in that area.

In between the two and slightly astern is ‘Aegir’, the 82-footer chartered by Clarke Murphy. ‘Aegir’ navigator Mike Broughton reports that they’re setting up for the free ride offered by the Gulf Stream.

“There’s plenty of south wind ahead,” said Broughton. “The way we’re working the Gulf Stream is similar to what ‘Wizard’ is doing. We’ve had up to 2.5 knots of current from the Gulf Stream. We expect the wind’s going to lighten tomorrow. Hopefully it won’t get too light, but it might be time to break out the Code 0. It’ll be some kind of reaching angle tomorrow.”

About 285 nautical miles behind ‘Wizard’, on a bearing of 265 degrees, are Eric de Turkheim’s 55-footer ‘Teasing Machine’ and Jean-Pierre Dick’s 54-footer ‘The Kid’. The two boats are sailing within two miles of each other, with ‘Teasing Machine’ slightly farther south and slightly ahead.

The trick for the two will be to stay on the back end of the front they’re riding or risk falling into lighter winds.

“We’re doing alright,” said ‘Teasing Machine’ project manager Laurent Pagès. “We’ve been fighting with squalls, rain and big shifts. The low pressure we’ve been in is starting to run away and we’ll get westerly/northwesterly winds out of that. The conditions have been very variable.

“We’ve been facing some electrical issues, but hopefully that’s sorted now,” Pagès continued. “We’re within in sight of ‘The Kid’. JP (Jean-Pierre Dick) made an early move to position south for the low pressure. We’re not that sure about that call just yet, but at some stage we thought it would be good to get low.”

In the middle of the racecourse near rhumbline, the “Group of Six” continues to sail in close proximity to each other. The group includes Giles Redpath’s ‘Pata Negra’ (just south of rhumbline), Peter Bacon’s ‘Lucy Georgina’ (on rhumbline), Rives Potts’s ‘Carina’, Mark Stevens’ ‘Kiva’ (at left), Hiro Nakajima’s ‘Hiro Maru’ (all within 14 nautical miles of each other), and Ryan Hughes’ ‘True’, the farthest north of the group.

Aboard ‘Pata Negra’, onboard reporter Chris Hanson wrote of settling into life offshore.

“The sea temperature went from 14 degrees C to 18 degrees C in one hour – getting near the gulf stream now,” said Hanson. “We’ve temporarily moved to a four hours on/six hours off watch as it’s running smooth to max on the sleep.”

On ‘Charisma’, Constantin Claviez’s Swan 44, the skipper reported on a rotation at the helm position and a savoury dinner.

“To get familiar with the environment, we changed helm every half an hour after the start,” said Claviez. “With dinner (spaghetti Bolognaise prepared by Stefan (Eschenmoser) and Horst (Sablotny)) we settled into our watch system. The new sails are performing well, jib and mainsail were up, depending on the wind reefed or not.

“Currently, we are suffering old seas and light winds, speed 3 knots. What a difference to the speed of 8 knots this morning. Anyway, everything goes well on board, the captain is now catching up sleep after a busy night,” Claviez said.