Leaving Miami on Thursday afternoon, the 200 plus mile distance race saw the boats taking an effective anti-clockwise course around a square. The fleet first raced across the Gulf Stream out to a turning mark off the Bahamas, then north past Bimini around a turning mark at Great Isaac Light. From there, they sailed west, back across to the Gulf Stream to the Florida coast before heading back south to the finish just north of Miami.
The biggest shake up took place at around 2030 local time on Thursday night. Sailing upwind in a relatively large sea, but moderate wind, Eamon CONNEELY's (IRL) Reichel-Pugh designed Patches, broke its deck at the forward end of the cockpit on the port side. 'The core fully split - you could put your hand in there when you were sailing along,' described Ian WALKER (GBR). Midway between Miami and the Bahamas at the time, the crew had no choice but to head back to port. 'We had done half the upwind and we were looking forward to coming downwind with the chute. We had Rush and Pegasus tucked away, covering them for the overall positions,' continued WALKER.
Cruelly, at the time Patches was clear leader of the Rolex TP52 Global Championship after a hat trick of wins on Wednesday. The crew and a team of boatbuilders are now attempting to fix the break so that Patches can race tomorrow. 'It might not be pretty, but we'll fix it,' advised WALKER. 'Obviously they are high performance, grand prix boats, designed as close to the limit as you can. We have had a few issues, but it is still a relatively new boat and once we shake out those issues we are really pleased with how she is going.'
Tactically the most significant part of the race occurred on the first side of the 'square' from Miami across to the Bahamas. With the wind from the southeast and the north-flowing Gulf Stream running at up to five knots in places, the passage across was a starboard-tack-biased beat. At some point between Miami and the Bahamas the boats would have to put a tack in to the south, but the question was when to do this. A majority of boats, including early leader Patches, had chosen the latter southerly route, while Bambakou, Glory and Beau Geste had chosen the 'northern route' heading straight across to the Bahamas. As they approached the Bahamas this latter group was hit by a massive 40 degree header. All three tacked and suddenly were able to lay the turning mark.
At this stage Karl KWOK's Hong Kong entry Beau Geste had taken the lead followed by Bambakou and Glory. With Patches out of the running, Michael BRENNAN's (USA) Sjambok was first of the southern boats to reach the mark, but well behind the leaders. A match race for the lead took place on this next leg hugging the western side of the Bahamas Bank with Bambakou taking the lead only to be overtaken on the inside again by Beau Geste at the next mark.
On the run back across the Straits of Florida, Bambakou hit 24.5 knots, just more than the wind speed - the wind had piped up to more than 20 after midnight - and once again took the lead. From here the team hung on to first place until the finish, winning by 6 minutes and 35 seconds ahead of Beau Geste.
On his arrival an exhausted, but jubilant, Bambakou owner, COUMANTAROS, attributed the boat's success to his team and to sticking to their game plan. He believed that Bambakou was better suited to offshore races with a wider transom making for better reaching in moderate to strong conditions. COUMANTAROS added that they had benefited from using a fractional reaching chute, an A5, whereas Beau Geste was sailing under reefed main and masthead genoa.
'I am happy. We pride ourselves in the long distance courses and the boat went very well,' said COUMANTAROS, adding that his background is in this style of racing. His father George had several maxi boats called Boomerang on which he had sailed. 'I called my dad before we set off and he said 'well the way you're going just split from the fleet. And as always he was right.' Sailing onboard Bambakou was America's Cup sailor and Olympic bronze medallist in the Tornado Santiago LANGE (ARG), along with his Olympic Tornado crew Carlos ESPINOLA (ARG) and Johan BARNE (SWE), who sails with LANGE at the Victory Challenge, Swedish America's Cup team.
KWOK's Beau Geste, with Gavin BRADY (NZL) calling the shots onboard, arrived close behind in second. 'It was a tiring race but in the end the result pays off. And it was my first race crossing the Gulf Stream,' said KWOK, praising his navigator Tom ADDIS.
In third place overall was BRENNAN's Sjambok, a Farr-designed sistership to Bambakou. On his arrival Sjambok navigator Campbell FIELD (NZL) was kicking himself for not having gone north. 'I didn't have the conviction and going north paid hugely,' he said. However, they reached the Bahamas first by being furthest north of the southerly boats. Sjambok arrived just under 20 minutes after Bambakou. 'It was good fun racing. We were close to boats all the time, sailing for 18 hours with the intensity of an hour and a half windward-leeward,' concluded FIELD.
With three races left to sail, including today's coastal race, the top three positions see championship leader KAHN's Pegasus 52 (fourth yesterday), second placed Beau Geste and Patches within two points.