Sunday 19 November 2017

Sailing: From last to first in just one week

Damian Foxall team in competition
Damian Foxall team in competition

Damian Foxhall

That's more like it!

From the basement to the penthouse, in one week we've reversed our standing in the Route Princes Round Europe race thanks to winning stage one from Valencia to Lisbon.

We're a happy bunch on board our trimaran Oman Air. Not only is this MOD70-type multihull a speed machine, we're ticking the boxes we set out to do this year.

We just have quite a few more remaining to check before we can really celebrate.

But it's far too soon to speak of defending our overall lead and we won't be risking complacent thoughts. We worked hard to get this result, but all we've really done is restarted the series with a small points margin for comfort.

Here in Lisbon, we have two days of inshore racing that could see us slip from first overall unless we can address some gaps in our performance in these spectacle races close to the shore.

Even though we finished last in our four-boat class in three of these races in Valencia last weekend, the margins of error were quite small, even if critical for point-scoring.


We know what we need to work on so by the end of today's final inshore race, we'll know whether we've delivered the improvements.

Part of the reason for our poor showing last weekend was down to how we approached these races. Normally in fleet regattas getting a good start is crucial as the lead boats get into clear wind and are marginally faster than the chasing fleet, who struggle with the disturbed wind from the boats ahead.

First boat to the first mark usually has a massive advantage and can defend first place from that point onwards. But our boats in this series are incredibly fast.

Getting a good start is important, though with just four boats, getting into clear wind is more straightforward.

But mark-roundings at high-speed become very tricky and a race can be won or lost in a single badly-handled manoeuvre.

So, after the first round of inshore races, we were happy to get back out to sea last Sunday for the stage to Lisbon.

We were sailing into an area that our skipper Sidney Gavignet, Neal McDonald and I know especially well after all the various round the world races we've been in.

And still nothing was taken for granted.

Our team on Oman Air is new and even though several of us have sailed tens of thousands of miles together, we can't risk misunderstandings in these new group set-up.

So, we met before the leg started and planned out all the route details with the weather forecasts and it came together nicely, including winning the important scoring-gates that boosted our points tally.

We'll be doing all that again today in preparation for tomorrow's second leg start from Portugal to Dun Laoghaire.

Neal has been gathering the nav data and it looks like the strong winds and rain that have hit Ireland over the past two days will have gone through and we can expect a relatively easy run north over the 1,000-mile course through the Bay of Biscay to the Irish coast.

We have two scoring-gates to aim for, one at Caiscais close to the start and the other is the Fastnet Rock off Cork.

It'll be great to sail into home waters again, almost a year after winning the Volvo Ocean Race and we should arrive into Dublin Bay sometime on Wednesday.

Another round of inshore races off Dun Laoghaire and Sandycove will bring us to the halfway point in the Route des Princes ahead of the leg to Plymouth and on to the Bay of Morlaix for the finish at the end of June.

We're sharpening our game and hope that'll make the difference we need.

But we can't rule out our opposition, who are doing exactly the same as us and are certain to raise the stakes over the next week.

Before we know the outcome, we have a few thousand more miles to sail on the most exciting all-round offshore sailing boat there is.

Irish Independent

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