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19 October 2005, 02:53 pm
Neck And Neck At The Top
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Round Britain And Ireland Challenge 2005

There is a tussle at the head of the Round Britain And Ireland Challenge fleet with SAIC and Spirit of Sark neck and neck and just four miles now between the back yacht, Pindar, and the lead yachts.
They have packed away the spinnakers and are reaching towards St. Kilda in Scotland with yankee and staysails up and some with reefs in their main sails (to reduce size of sail as the wind has been fairly strong).

Last night the crews reported some fast action onboard as Pindar CV, Mary GOLCHER, a 56 year old social worker from Greens Norton, explained, 'Now steaming along with 30 knot winds, max 35 knot last night, waves coming over the side and everybody beginning to get cold, wet and tired. Rain too. Morale however remains high.'

Fiona CAMPBELL, a 29 year old lawyer from London substantiates similar conditions aboard Spirit of Sark, 'With gusts of up to 28 knots it was all hands on deck for a sail change from the no 1 to the no 2. Things were pretty wet and windy on deck. Waves were crashing over the foredeck submerging the crew. This was our first experience of working in heavy weather and I think everyone enjoyed it!'

So what is next with the weather as the fleet crosses into Scottish waters and on towards the Northern-most tip of the British Isles, Muckle Flugga? We caught up with Cal TOMLINSON, Challenge Business' Sailing Manager who explained, 'In the last 24 hours they've seen some pretty fast reaching conditions towards the North East across some substantial south East breezes.

'This won't hold and will be diminishing for the fleet as you read this report. With the breeze going light and more variable it will possibly fill in from the south again by this evening.

'The reason for this is a shallow, very large low pressure system currently South West of the fleet which is moving Eastwards. This low will intensify as it moves Eastwards and, as it passes over the fleet, will cause variable winds but mainly from the South and then South West.

'But, here's the catch! By Friday afternoon this low pressure system will have moved East of Scotland causing strong winds from the North East directly from where the yachts want to go!

'So the race is on to get to Muckle Flugga before this happens! The fleet has 426 miles to get there which represents the end of the Northwards passage where they turn and head South again. Hopefully they should be there by Friday, midday in time for when the wind turns to the north.'

The tactics and navigational skills that the skippers need to employ on this race is highly complicated. Echoing back to an interview with Me to You skipper, John QUIGLEY on race start day he explained the toughest part for him would be the tactics required on such a difficult race course.

In fact, one of the most famous sailors in the world - Ellen MACACRTHUR - was quoted in Yachting World as saying, 'Round the world, across the Atlantic, round Britain...many sailors who have done these three might suggest that the rocky shores of the British Isles pose perhaps the greatest challenge of all.'

If it has not been trying enough for the skippers and their mates over the past few days - flying the huge spinnakers and shaking off the competition - then it will perhaps be even more trying for them now as they negotiate their way round Scotland and the Western Isles. This is where the cold, the wet and the dark will set in, requiring teams to dig deep, physically and psychologically, to get them through.

With the yachts so close together the pressure is on - day and night - the skippers renowned for their competitive streaks and the yachts a matched, one design fleet.

The intensity of the racing is described by Will OTTON, skipper of Samsung, 'All last night we tussled with Me To You, keeping them at bay with both yachts trimming like mad. This morning we are again within a quarter of a mile of each other. We did a smooth headsail change from our number 2 to the larger number 1, which they have since matched. There is nothing like a little one-on-one boat competition and rivalry to lift the spirits on a cold and damp Atlantic morning.'

Martin WILD aboard SAIC continues, 'I still find it amazing after so many miles we are this close. It's good motivation for the team to be this close, although for me, it felt much easier when were ahead by a bit more.'

However, the yachts are one another's safety nets, in the event of assistance being needed and as WILD concludes, 'There is a good sense of camaraderie amongst the other boats, with handy hints being swapped on how to fix things and offer knowledge where possible, which is a good sign.'

Rachel Anning. Image, The Me to You team in action:© Challenge Business
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