Team AkzoNobel has set off from Plymouth, England on the third stage of the Leg Zero qualification series – a 225-nautical mile (417-kilometer) race in the English Channel finishing in the French port of St. Malo.
The course for the race will first take the fleet of seven Volvo Ocean 65s along the English south coast to a turn near the Needles lighthouse at the western end of the Isle of Wight and then across the English Channel to St Malo.
The race got underway at 12.50 BST (13.50 UTC) today, Thursday August 10, and is expected to take less than 24 hours to complete.
The team AkzoNobel crew has had just 24 hours to recover after finishing a closely fought Fastnet Race in the early hours of yesterday that saw the sailors average just four hours sleep during 64 hours of intense racing.
The crew’s chances of any sleep at all on the much shorter Plymouth to Saint Malo race are slim to non-existent. The team has opted to do away with the regular watch system and all nine crewmembers are likely to be on deck throughout.
Although the course for this latest stage is diminutive compared to the expansive transoceanic legs of the Volvo Ocean Race, the cross-Channel sprint will present plenty of challenges for the fleet of seven international teams.
Gilles Chiorri (FRA), team AkzoNobel’s team manager and a former round the world sailor, broke the race down into three sections:
Plymouth to the Isle of Wight
The fleet will sail along the English south coast with the wind behind them [downwind], but will need to be careful of the ‘lee effect’ wind shadow caused by the close proximity to land. Teams choosing this direct course may experience lighter winds, whereas a more southerly course extends the distance sailed but could reduce the wind shadow effect.
Tide and current will also play a role – particularly at the Start Point, Portland Bill and Anvil Point headlands. Prerace estimates suggest an arrival at the Needles around 23.00 BST (22.00 UTC) this evening.
Across the English Channel
This section is likely to be sailed in light to moderate downwind conditions – north westerly breezes of around 10 knots. As well as ensuring the boat is sailing at its optimum speed, the crew will have to keep a sharp lookout for ships as they carefully pick their way through one of the busiest commercial shipping waterways in the world.
Along the French coast
The final section of this racecourse could be tricky as the fleet negotiates the Alderney Races (the French call this Raz Blanchard) between the Channel Island of Alderney and the northern French coast. This treacherous channel is one of the narrowest in Europe and can see currents up to seven knots in either direction.
Next up is the rock-strewn area between the islands of Guernsey and Jersey where big gains or losses can be made in the strong tide. The fleet’s navigators will be glued to their computer screens, monitoring their boat speed and course and looking out keenly for any chance to make a gain on their rivals.
On deck the crew will need to watch out not to snag on of the hundreds of lobster posts anchored randomly in the area. Hooking one of these means stopping to get it off and the risk of damaging the keel, rudder or dagger board on which it is stuck.
All-in-all this promises to be a short but complex and demanding leg that will challenge the teams as much mentally as physically and one that the crews will be pleased to behind them when they arrive in France.
Estimated time of arrival in St. Malo: Friday August 11, 2017 08.00 CEST (07.00 BST, 06.00 UTC).
Team AkzoNobel Crew List:
Skipper: Simeon Tienpont (NED)
Roberto Bermúdez de Castro (ESP)
Annemieke Bes (NED)
Brad Jackson (NZL)
Luke Molloy (AUS)
Emily Nagel (BER)
Jules Salter (GBR)
Nicolai Sehested (DEN)
Joca Signorini (BRA)