Punishing first leg in prospect

 02 July 2016

The 44 skippers lined up to start the inaugural SORC Round the Rock race will have to battle head winds most of the way to the Fastnet Rock off south-west Ireland. The start day is promising to be particularly tough, with a mean wind speed of 25 knots and stronger gusts.

“Without a doubt the most challenging part will be the first 48 hours,” says Charles Emmett, skipper of the Sigma 36 British Beagle. Emmett is no stranger to long distance solo saiing, having successfully completed many iconic races, including the 3,000 mile OSTAR trans-Atlantic race in 2013. Even so, he’s not complacent about the Round the Rock race: 

“It represents a massive challenge – nothing to do with the total mileage – it’s all to do with where it’s taking place. In the OSTAR in 27 days I saw only four boats, so there was plenty of opportunity to rest and manage your own well-being. But we have to sail the best part of 200 miles before we can get any proper respite for sleep. With the volume of commercial traffic, fishing boats and other sailing boats, it will probably at best be 15 minute naps.”

So what’s the appeal of the race? “It’s the first time this race has ever been done – it’s a big challenge even two-handed and no one has ever done it solo – it’s a box that has to be ticked, I guess.”

The entry list includes many hugely successful skippers that have featured on the podium of both British and French long distance and oceanic solo races. Among them is French competitor Mederic Thiout, who has owned his 50 year old, 54ft A Class yacht for 25 years. “Five days on the water is always fun and this race is going to be hugely interesting,” he says. “Getting out of the Solent and the English Channel single handed is a great challenge.”

Given the tough forecast, in the early stages the challenge of simply staying in the race will be at the forefront of skippers’ minds. However, this will be mixed with an imperative to maintain good speed and make gains through optimum weather routing. It’s sure to be a delicate balance, with skippers that push too hard too early risking early retirement, leaving those who find the right balance to make important gains. 

Those in the three mini-fleets of almost identical boats – seven Jeanneau Sunfast 3600s, seven JPK10.10s and six Sunfast 3200s – are most likely to be tempted by peer pressure to press too hard in the early stages. Over the next few days we’re certain to see an enthralling mix of human endeavour and technical sailing skills playing out – it will be fascinating to see the outcome. 

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