On the morning of departure for this leg the fog was thick and the damp air hung, despite a fresh 15 knots breeze blowing. We were sure that the planned in-port section of the leg start would be cancelled and a shorter departure would be confirmed keeping the fleet and spectators as safe as possible.
Newport had other ideas though and were definitely going to see us off in style.
We departed the dock and hoisted the mainsail close to the committee boat, and then lost sight of them before we had reached a full hoist. I was nervous that we would not be able to find the leaving gate, so we went up to check on its location to be sure we would clear the gate. On our way back, and within just 30 minutes of the start, the sun burnt the fog off, the skies cleared and the conditions were perfect for a crowd pleasing inshore race before we left the bay and headed out across the Atlantic Ocean towards Cardiff. Good job Newport!
The start was good and we short tacked our way up the first beat. Forcing our way into the left gate turn at the top earnt us a penalty and we had to do a 360 turn before we could continue. This meant that we then trailed the fleet for the rest of the circuit as we left Newport. The thick fog was back again and awaited us as we cleared the leaving gate so we soon lost sight of the three boats that were within two miles of us. Visibility dropped to just a circle of one boat length as we changed sails and passed close by the TSS exclusion zones nearby.
We were all trying to stay with the front as the light winds were close behind with a shift. Unfortunately, and rather frustratingly, we fell off the back of this ride and found the shift and light airs first. We were first to gybe and, while that gave us a good velocity to the finish, it was painfully slow compared to the rest of the fleet who were now powering away. We could only sail in the breeze we had and needed to work hard at it all the while hoping that the routing was correct and eventually we would all be close again as we pass the ice exclusion zone in the new strong winds to come.
The southern group powered their way forward and then, when they gybed, they thundered past us and we all converged but with them firmly ahead. For us in the north we had a steady build in pressure and then the warm front caught us. It was a little squally, with gusts in the region of 44 knots. It rained a lot and lifted us but unfortunately the lift was not as great as the guys to the south and so our progress was limited. We survived the front and continued to sail in the warm sector. Visibility was poor, it was quite misty and murky which was only made worse each time we crossed some cold water patches from the Labrador Current. The Gulf Stream and Labrador Current made the wind variable in strength despite our instrument numbers reading the same. It was a strange effect but very noticeable and the other effect was the sea state. At times this was really uncomfortable and even made a few of the crew feel a little rough. It was only going to last for two and a half days so we needed to embrace it and suffer the queazy consequences.
As we cleared the ice exclusion zone the fleet came back together and we were all in similar conditions. We were all pushing hard to make the most of this depression while we could hold onto the pressure. The cold front was chasing us and ahead there was a high pressure ridge that we were all going to crash into. This ridge was stopping the low continuing and we all had to find a way through it somehow. Those that cleared it first would tackle the light winds between us and the finish first. In the mean time we had fast, wet, windy sailing in a straight line to enjoy. The water temperature was steady, around 12 degrees, and the wind strength between 26 and 30 knots. Despite having poor visibility it was enjoyable progress.
The drivers were buzzing as these conditions were some of the best we had seen all race. It was fast and full on and we had found a mode that kept pace with the rest of the fleet with the exception of Brunel and AkzoNobel who had the afterburners on. They were so fast and impressive to watch.
As predicted and almost to the minute, we had a dying breeze and moved the stack forward and changed sails to the MH0. We were now ready to tackle this ridge of high pressure. We hit it at the same time as the red boats and Vestas, who we had been keeping pace with, but they were a little ahead and to the north and were able to come out and find the new breeze sooner than us. The anticipated compression of the fleet took place and we closed up 50 miles but, by that time, the leaders were through and in more breeze so we expected that lead to extend again. We had to fight hard to keep pushing forwards and try to extend on Scallywag behind us.
The front runners were gone and even our close friends had made gains on us by the time we cleared the ridge and had stable breeze again. The only solace we had was that we had kept a good margin over Scallywag. This breeze would now take us to the south of Ireland where we would face headwinds all the way to the finish line. There was a forecast of a slight light patch but not enough for us to think we could compress on the rest of the fleet again. We reluctantly had to face that fact that perhaps this was not to be our leg but we had seen stranger things happen in this race so were certainly not giving up the fight.
The final 150 miles were hard fought. The front fight closed up to be super close and we were chasing Mapfre hard. There were transitions, strong spring tides and light winds – every inch counted. The water was flat, the visibility was not great and there was lots of sheer on the water making the instruments read very differently to the wind we were actually experiencing. This upwind section was long and tricky. The weather grib files were struggling to show the actual wind effect so we had to use the information from the other boats at each position report and then try and sail with what we had. Our final night provided a beautiful sunset and full moon to sail by and this was a great end to the leg. What time we would finish in the morning was the big question hanging over us as we had a tidal window to make the lock into the dock, otherwise we would be waiting.
It was upwind tacking all the way through the Bristol Channel and we finished at 0856hrs in sixth position.
Regardless of the result in this leg we have had some great sailing. The guys experienced some of the best sailing of the whole race and they were buzzing. Admittedly we didn’t get up to speed as quickly as the others but when we got there we were going really well and keeping pace with everyone else. AkzoNobel and Brunel were on fire and played the Gulf Stream expertly, gaining them record breaking speed conditions, but we were also there too and that was exciting. The other great success of this leg was crossing the track of Leg 0 where this campaign all began. At that stage my guys were sailing this boat for the first time and now, a few months later, they have circumnavigated the globe for the first time. I am hugely proud and have loved sailing with them all. They have grown as sailors, as people and have developed into a great team.
We finished this leg ahead of Scallywag and would like that result in the overall leaderboard at the end of the race. To be a young rookie team, late into the game we would dream of not finishing last. So that is our goal over the next two legs, obviously we will continue to hope for that elusive podium finish and will just have to see what happens.