Being Thereon board

momentum builder

Former Minista and Past SCOTW Emma Creighton is as driven as they come; this year, she and partner Dan Dytch are making their assault on the Class 40 circuit with Momentum Racing.  This report from a couple of days ago comes from France’s sandy coast.

Well, here we are. Just a few more hours until we start the first leg of the Les Sables-Horta race. Dan and I have been sailing together as Momentum Ocean Racing for 3 months now, and I’d like to think we’ve come a long way.

In April, we got the boat (GBR 93, ex-Concise 2, an Akilaria RC2) just one week before the start of the Normandy Channel Race. Despite the fact that Dan and I have been prepping for ocean races in France for a few years, and are familiar with all the hurdles one must jump through, that was definitely cutting it a bit close. The stress levels were high, and we felt like we were just playing catch-up, rather than actually focusing on the preparations that we found important. Oh, or going sailing. Yeah, we didn’t get to do much of that before the start either.

Fast-forward a few months though, and our main concern this week was trying to get the Fleet up and running. The Iridium is working, it’s just painfully slow, and we were hoping to be able to get gribs in less than 10 minutes… but it’s just not meant to be.

Otherwise we’ve been chipping away at little jobs- supergluing velcro to a hatch that always comes open, adjusting batten tension, looking at weather, and passing our security checks.

Yesterday we had a prologue race scheduled. At the time of the morning skippers’ briefing, there was 20+ knots of breeze and rain. No surprise that most of the skippers voiced the opinion that a prologue, in those conditions, the day before a race start, was perhaps not the most awesome thing. The next 45 minutes consisted of lots of arguing (in French), while Dan and I played tic-tac-toe and kept lose tabs on the direction of the debate.

In the end, everyone agreed to still go out and go sailing (so that the race could get some publicity, TV coverage, photos, etc.), but that it was less of a race and more of a parade, and you could choose just how aggressive you wanted to be.

Our friend Phillipa Hutton-Squire (of the last Global Ocean Race) had driven down in the morning and came out with us for the afternoon. We set up the staysail, left the 3di solent on the dock, and headed off.

Outside the breakwaters, there was a pretty big swell, though not as much wind as earlier in the day. We still put a reef into the main, and headed off to find the start line. There were boats everywhere, and when we finally heard anything on the radio, it was a 30-second count-down to….? We didn’t know, but started watch timers anyway. Then a minute later, there was another count-down and some boats started, so we put up our staysail and headed off upwind.

The next hour was fun chaos- we joined into the parade, following the likes of Seb on GDF Suez who put up a kite and blasted off down the beach, while we winged out the staysail (which worked quite well, thank you very much, and we passed a few boats while doing it). Eventually most of the fleet turned around and started heading back towards the breakwater, so we fell in with them and went back to the dock. A race? No, not for most of us. A fun day on the water? Sure. And I think the organisers got the photos they wanted, everyone was happy and we got in early enough to have a shower and then go for a nice dinner with some friends.

Today we did some final weather prep. after the skippers meeting/ weather briefing (in French). My weather French is about as good as my food French, so I understand most of it, but there was still a lot of room for studying our own sources and discussing our options.

Our start is at 1902 French time, and for the next 24 hours it will be a race to the pressure increase north-east of Cape Finisterre. It will be fairly light, and the goal is to go south-ish of rhumbline, without getting too close to the coast of Spain.

As we get into the pressure increase overnight on the 5th-6th, we’ll be gybing down the N corner of Finisterre, while avoiding the Traffic Separation Scheme (a forbidden zone). Because of the Azores high, and the Iberian low, this acceleration zone of squished isobars is nearly always there, to varying degrees. Luckily for us, as we go through, it will probably be in the 25-30 knot range. Sometimes, it’s in the 45 knot range, which means you have to take more care about ducking in to get the pressure you need, and then getting out again before it’s more than you want. But 25-30 is a happy area of one reef and the fractional kite, fast without having to think about throttling back.

On the 6th the wind will decrease as we move away from N coast of Portugal, and we’ll aim for a waypoint NE of the Azores. The next few days will be tricky- we’ll have to cross a ridge of high pressure with very light wind… we’ll aim for the narrowest point, but as of right now, it looks like it will be very light all the way to the finish.

One routing has us finishing in 6 days something, another is more than 7… I booked a hotel in Horta for the night of the 10th, so fingers crossed we’ll be there by then, but it’s unlikely.

Please follow along on the race tracker, you can vote for your favorite team here (hint hint), and follow us on Facebook here. And you can vote for your favorite team here (hint hint).

The entire website for the race is in French, and I doubt there will be much in English coming out of the press either, so Dan and I will try to send updates to SA as often as possible. We’ll also be posting stuff on my Facebook page (Emma’s Sailing Exploits).

If you have any questions for Dan or me, send them to Clean and he’ll forward them to our satphone mail.  And thanks for the interest!