The seven competitors participating in the EDS Atlantic Challenge have started the second leg from Cuxhaven, Germany to Portsmouth, England however weather will soon play a major role
It was a sombre sight as the seven yachts participating in the EDS Atlantic Challenge set off on Leg Two, a 500 mile sprint to Portsmouth, England, under one reef, small jib and full ballast. The smooth, murky waters of the Elbe River provided a drab backdrop as the colourful Open 60 sailboats crossed the start line right off the Cuxhaven Yacht Club in a South Westerly 20 - 22 knot wind. The gun sounded at precisely 14:00 GMT and it was Alphagraphics first over the line, followed by Kingfisher and Gartmore. Kingfisher took an early lead and after just ten miles of racing they had pushed out a decent gap over the chasing pack of Sill, Gartmore and Ecover. Ahead of the sailors lie some of the trickiest sailing conditions with strong currents and busy shipping lanes, and to complicate matters, an ominous weather forecast.
"There is going to be a lot of wind and it's going to be blowing directly on our nose," said Gilles Chiorri, French navigator and weather expert aboard Gartmore. "There is a strong low pressure coming down from Scotland and it's forecast to blow gale force winds. We are planning our race accordingly."
Ken Campbell of Commanders Weather, the experts who advise the competitors on weather conditions issued the following warning: "There will be gale force southwesterly winds to over 40 knots as the fleet passes through the Strait of Dover. Seas will build to 10-15 feet. Tuesday night and Wednesday be a very rough period from Dover westward to Portsmouth and the fleet will do well to keep the boats from being damaged as they tack through strong headwinds and high seas."
Weather was on the minds of the skippers at the pre-race briefing, and Australian Nick Moloney, co-skipper aboard Kingfisher was philosophical about the balance between racing hard and sparing the boat.
"We do not want to break the boat especially with such a short stopover in Portsmouth. We will push our boat hard, but not so hard that we damage any of our equipment. We know that you can't win if you don't finish." That sentiment was echoed by Mike Golding, skipper of Ecover, one of the pre-leg favourites.
"It's going to be a tough leg especially for those among us who have never sailed an Open 60 to windward in big seas. It's not pretty." While weather might be the wild card for Leg Two, it is likely to provide some close racing with the first yachts expected to arrive in Portsmouth from Thursday night onwards.
The third leg of the EDS Atlantic Challenge sails across the Atlantic to Baltimore on the east coast of the United States, and from there to Boston. The final leg returns to St. Malo, France. The first yachts are expected to finish the race between August 19 and August 22.