The last 20 hours have been a baptism by fire for the seven boats racing in the 470nm offshore race from Kiel, Germany, to Sandhamn in Sweden.
The two leading boats, Challenge of Netsurvey and TeamRS have reported gusts of up to 46 knots, with top boat speeds around 27 knots.
"I haven't slept at all,"
said a tired Ross FIELD from Challenger of Netsurvey, earlier yesterday. "The sailing has been really marginal, with the boat underwater a lot of the time."
Skipper, Matthew HUMPHRIES, said the team has been sailing with big masthead spinnakers, having not taken any fractional chutes with them for this race. Their main reaching sail was blown out before they reached Kiel Lighthouse yesterday, which has handicapped them against Erle WILLIAMS and TeamRS, who, at 1600 local time yesterday, were two miles abeam as they approached the mark off Visby, some 20 nm further up the racetrack on the western side of the Island of Gotland.
Overnight the crew were being washed down the deck by the waves, and Challenge of Netsurvey's bowman, Henrik DAHL (SWE), has an injured knee. The boat was caught in 44 knots of breeze with a masthead spinnaker up, which will have put the pressure on even this highly experienced team.
Erle WILLAMS reported a wild ride with short seas and very windy, squally conditions overnight. "It has been a very eventful race so far, but the crew is in pretty good shape and we have no damage onboard,"
Williams said by satellite telephone. "We're having a great tussle with Challenge of Netsurvey, with lots of sail changing, but the crew has done a great job. We are having a lot of fun with some very, very exciting rides,"
At 1600 local time, the two leaders, racing neck and neck, had approximately 125 miles to the finish. The wind has decreased to less than 14 knots with the prospect of less wind shifting to an east-northeast direction during the night. With this forecast, the leaders are not expected to finish this race until after 0800 local time tomorrow morning.
Sony Ericsson and Elanders Ten Celsius head the next group, approximately 25 miles behind Challenge of Netsurvey and TeamRS. Pontona Youth and Nilorn are sailing together, a further 10 miles behind.
During the night, Nilorn was spinnaker reaching with her small fractional chute set in approximately 35 knots of breeze. With all sails stacked aft, and the aft ballast tank full, the boat rolled to windward and the fitting on the end of the spinnaker pole parted, leaving the pole still attached to spinnaker and flying around on the foredeck, with no sheet on the spinnaker to control it. The pole had to be wrestled under control before the crew could release it from the sail, by which time the spinnaker was shredded. The spinnaker was shaking the rig so badly that the decision to cut the halyard was made. "It was a real eye-opener for the crew"
said Andy HINDLEY, who sailed as navigator at the last moment to replace Karolina EKMAN (SWE) who damaged her hand and was unable to race. She will be sorry to miss this experience. Glenn BOURKE, also sailing with Nilorn said, "It was about as scary as it gets out here last night. The crew were whooping and hollering as the boat speed hit 25 knots, while I was just waiting for something to blow. The contrast in emotions amongst this young crew is amazing. Half of them are in a semi-comatose state now from exhaustion."
Meanwhile, Atea has suspected gear damage and is only making 6.5 knots. Reports indicate that she is now sailing only with storm sails. She was seen struggling with her mainsail and with a man aloft, as she approached Kiel Lighthouse. However, after considering returning to her homeport of Karlshamn on the southeastern tip of Sweden, the crew have decided to continue to race due to the improvement in the weather conditions forecast.
The fleet scored half points at Kiel Lighthouse, which puts Challenger of Netsurvey on a total of 13 points, point five of a point behind TeamRS (12.5).
Elanders Ten Celsius and Sony Ericsson are fighting for every point at they tie on 8.5 points, Sony Ericsson rounding second and gaining three points against Elanders Ten Celsius' fourth position scoring just two points.
Atea and Nilorn both have five points overall at this stage, but it seems unlikely that Atea will produce a good result on this leg, throwing the advantage to Nilorn, whilst the Danish young sailors on Pontona Youth have a score of 2, but are continuing to race hard.
Although the fleet has split into three very clear groups, every point gained in this, the first offshore race in the series, will be an important victory as the competition develops over the next 10 days or so.
Results overall after two races including bonus points gained at Kiel Lighthouse
Challenge of Netsurvey - 13.0 points
TeamRS - 12.5 points
Elanders Ten Celsius - 8.5 points
Sony Ericsson - 8.5 points
Atea - 5 points
Nilorn - 5 points
Pontona Youth - 2 points