From the moment the start gun fired, Team Adventure looked to be the one to beat with blazing speed and a team of cowboys willing to push the boat every inch of the way. Skip Novak put it best in an article for Outside Online. "The raw speed Team Adventure showed off the line was incredible. She literally marched away from the fleet, pointing higher and going faster." Within a half-hour of the start, Team Adventure was setting record speeds at just over 35 knots, and had the rest of the fleet trailing in both her wakes. She kept that furious pace all the way out of the Mediterranean, slowing briefly to drop off a film crew at the Straits of Gibraltar, and then accelerating into the Atlantic with Club Med and Innovation Explorer in hot pursuit. Playstation lagged behind suffering from sail problems and a "lack of legs." It was clear to those watching that Playstation did not have what it took to stick with the Ollier cats, but that was in smooth water. Playstation was built (and modified) to surf the southern seas and would likely have found her stride once south of 40 degrees. However it was not to be. Fossett took a compulsory 48-hour penalty by stopping in Gibraltar to replace her brand new sails with the old ones once relegated to the container; in doing so, the crew found themselves sailing in a completely different weather pattern from the front runners. They hung tough until well past the equator until disaster struck, and Playstation was sent limping home with a shattered daggerboard and a number of shattered dreams among the crew.
There is still a long way to go, well over 17,740 miles to be exact, and much can happen, but the first two weeks have given us a good insight into what might happen as this race unfolds. It's clear that the pace is a lot faster than even seasoned veteran Grant Dalton could have predicted. Talk among the competitors of pacing themselves and holding back to favor the boat were quickly snuffed out with a demitasse of adrenalin tossed directly into the blood stream of each crew member that crossed the start line. Speeds have been outrageous and average daily runs have come close to setting new world records. Team Adventure logged consecutive runs of 586 and 560 miles in moderate conditions, and the buzz on board is that once they get down south records will quickly tumble. They also have a quiet confidence in their speed, encouraged by their showing at the start and the way in which they were able to come back from the tactical blunder of going west in the early stages. Cam Lewis attributes this to his sails, and in the interest of fair reporting I must confess that I was instrumental in their development, pushing for Cuben Fiber fabric and some creative designs from the early stages. We saw it as one of the few "passing lanes" for a team that would be late launching. So far so good, despite Playstation's problems with their Cuben Fiber sails.
|"Talk among the competitors of pacing themselves and holding back to favor the boat were quickly snuffed out with a demitasse of adrenalin tossed directly into the blood stream of each crew member that crossed the start line."|
The most consistent entry has been Club Med. So far they have adopted a middle-of-the-road approach to the race, not venturing out on a limb nor attempting to set records. When Team Adventure veered off west they let them go, and when Innovation Explorer hugged the African coast and pulled into the lead, they did not take up the chase. Dalton seems happy to sail a conservative middle ground, pushing just hard enough to regain the lead each time he loses it, but no harder. They are clearly the best prepared and know their boat better than the other Ollier sisters (as they have come to be known.) Club Med's strength and preparation will certainly come to the fore once down south in the cold, harsh latitudes of the Southern Ocean. So too will the depth of experience between Dalton and navigator Mike Quilter. Both have seen lone hares crash and burn while the sure and steady prevail in the end.
Since hooking onto the northeast trades and dodging the Cape Islands in the Verde group, all three front runners have had an interesting ride south. Innovation Explorer was the first to gybe out west to position herself for a better angle to attack the southeast trades, giving up some ground in order to do so, but the others did not follow. Club Med stole the inside lane and Team Adventure, still playing a game of catch-up a few degrees to her west, took the middle ground. All three boats barely noticed the doldrums skipping through them in less than 24 hours, and then Team Adventure put her pedal to the floor, and averaging two knots faster, first overtook Innovation Explorer and then Club Med. The sailing was the best they had ever experienced romping along in ideal conditions until the South Atlantic High threw up a road block and the speeds dropped to a crawl.
When Peyron conceived The Race he imagined a fleet of wildly different yachts taking part. The rule had no restrictions, leaving it to the creativity of designers and engineers. He must be a little surprised to see the event coming down to three identical sister-ships match-racing. Notwithstanding the two smaller boats, it's essentially a one-design fleet, and there is not much difference in their relative speeds. It all comes down to crew work and weather skills, and while it might not have been what Peyron predicted, you only need two evenly matched boats to have a good race. After a few weeks more of sailing, we'll be able to tell if this will go down in history as a great race.
For complete coverage and interviews, check out SailNet' Race site.
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