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3 October 2002, 04:01 pm
Atlantic Sprint - Boats Pushing Hard
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Spirit of Hong Kong ©marinepics

Challenge Transat - Race 2
Boston (USA) - Southampton (GBR)

It's been a punishing 24 hours for the Transat fleet. Strong tail winds and rolling following seas have made for hazardous sailing conditions. Whilst the humans have come through unscathed the yachts have not fared quite as well.
It's been a punishing 24 hours for the Transat fleet. Strong tail winds and rolling following seas have made for hazardous sailing conditions. Whilst the humans have come through unscathed the yachts have not fared quite as well.

The first boat to report damage was TeamSpirIT which said it's main spinnaker had torn as the crew was attempting to take it down as winds rose last night. "The head was completely torn off about 20 ft from the top and then both tapes ripped off the remainder of the way." TeamSpirIT skipper Mark Taylor reports. " Also there were various other tears in the head."

The crew has begun repairs on this critical sail but Taylor said it would be at least two days before they know if it can be used again in this race. This leaves TeamSpirIT sailing at a disadvantage. "Having lost the flanker last night, it has been a bit like sailing a car without top gear," Taylor explained.

BP Explorer was the second boat to report trouble. " The news is not good from BP Explorer," skipper Alex Johnston reported. "Last night the sea was running quite high which was causing some problems with the helming. Unfortunately one of the crew managed to accidentally let the guy off resulting in the starboard spinnaker pole being broken."

As so often happens when things go wrong at sea, that mishap set off a chain reaction of trouble. "During the ensuing chaos as we tried to drop the spinnaker, the yacht was gybed by accident which resulted in the preventor block on the foredeck being ripped off and the main crashing across the yacht," Johnson reported. " It was a right old mess. Fortunately no one was hurt."

A Bit of a Primer

For fans new to sailing short explanation of a couple of terms may be in order. A "broach" can happen in two ways when a yacht is sailing downwind.

In such conditions, and when wind speeds allow, racing yachts like to put up the biggest headsail they can to catch that wind and ride it. There are two conditions under which broaches are common in downwind conditions. First, such winds can result in large following seas (waves that come up on the yachts from behind.) The combination of wind and sea can be at once, exhilarating and dangerous. If the waves are big enough and the winds strong enough the boat can literally surf down the face of the wave. Great fun - until you hit the trough at the bottom. If the yacht's helmsman is not skillful in keeping the bow pointed straight a broach is the result. The slightly off-centre bow is hit either on its starboard or port side with such force it literally jerks the yacht over onto its side.

The second broaching condition is a bit less spectacular, but no less dangerous. Often winds can build suddenly and if a yacht has its large spinnaker up and leaves it up too long the shear force of the wind can pull the boat down onto the side the spinnaker is poled out to. TIn both scenarios, the boom and spinnaker poles end up dragging in the sea and, under just the right conditions can break.

The other problem sited today was an uncontrolled gybe. An uncontrolled gybe can be equally damaging. When sailing downwind yachts set their boom out almost perpendicular to the deck. This allows the main sail to catch as much of the tail winds as possible. But this is also a very unstable configuration. If the helmsman does not keep the boat pointed properly downwind air fills in behind the main sail. The result can be a sudden and thunderous swing of the boom across the deck to the opposite side of the boat.

Since uncontrolled gybes are, by definition unplanned, the boom sweeping across the deck unannounced poses a physical risk to crewmembers working on deck at the time. And, once all that force comes to a sudden stop on the other side of the yacht it can result in serious boat damage ranging from a torn main, damaged mainsheet tracks or even weaken the mast.

But, both broaches and uncontrolled gybes are common during a west to east Atlantic race. So, it's up to the crews to respond to them without fear or hesitation when they occur. Seconds can make the difference between just an annoying mishap and a catastrophic and race ending disaster.

So, Mark Taylor lauded his crew's response. "Special mention must got to our Bowman," Taylor said. "When asked to go to the top of the mast he did not hesitate, even when we handed him the crash helmet. I sailed the boat dead down wind trying to keep it as flat as possible, but the motion would have been extreme 100 feet above sea level in 35 knots and mod seas. Bambi has now been renamed Tarzan. Well done Matt you gained all of our respect."

Aboard Spirit of Hong Kong, at this writing in fifth place, John Cunningham, said that the tough sailing had not broken anything on his boat but was wearing on the crew. "It has really played hell with the watches," Cunningham reported. "There were lots of times over the last couple of days when we had to have all hands on deck, whether it was your watch or not. That means we have some sleep deprivation going on here today."

At this writing Vail Williams continue to hold the lead with Logica eight miles behind in second. TeamSpirit still showed as third but will probably lose that spot the BG over the next few hours because of the torn spinnaker.

But, Taylor sees some hope for TeamSpirIT in the weather ahead, which may just nullify their current handicap. "Thankfully we are due to have a moderate gale coming through the fleet tomorrow," Taylor noted. "So whilst we may be losing out today, there will be too much wind tomorrow and no one will be flying their flankers."

Commander's Weather is forecasting near gale conditions for the fleet later this week.

Current Positions

Boat Name Pos Lat Long DTF VMG DTL 24 Hour Speed
Vail Williams 1 N 43° 0' 3" W 52° 41' 51" 2299 9.1 - 10.2
Logica 2 N 43° 9' 53" W 52° 54' 41" 2307 9.7 8 10
Team SpirIT 3 N 43° 10' 55" W 53° 31' 5" 2334 9 35 9.1
BG Group 4 N 42° 26' 5" W 53° 22' 9" 2335 9.4 37 10.1
Spirit of Hong Kong 5 N 41° 57' 46" W 53° 50' 45" 2364 9.1 65 9.6
BP Explorer 6 N 43° 4' 9" W 54° 39' 34" 2383 8.7 85 8.5
Event Media/ISAF News Editor
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