French sailor Bernard Stamm, sailing his Open 60 Bobst Group-Armor Lux, double-tapped his way into the history and record books today. Early on Thursday morning, he crossed an imaginary line off Lizard Point and marked a passage of 10d:11h:57m:19s from Newport, which, pending confirmation from the World Sailing Speed Record Council, would be a singlehanded, west-east transatlantic record. A few hours later, Stamm crossed the proper finish line of the Around Alone Race off Torbay Harbor, England and won the first leg of the AA. Stamm led the race almost from the get-go, taking the lead just after passing under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge south of New York Harbor.
“I am very excited to hold a new record and to win this first leg of the Around Alone race. I have been preparing my boat for the last year and the hard work has paid off,” said Stamm. “I am very tired from steering my boat by hand and looking forward to getting some rest, but now I am too excited to sleep. Maybe later.”
Following Stamm to the Finish Line by 12 hours or so will be Thierry Dubois aboard Solidaires, who, despite a last-minute charge that brought him to within 50 miles of Stamm two days ago, wasn’t able to close the gap. Dubois is expected to finish around midnight, U.K. time. Back marker in the 60 fleet is Bruce Schwab, who broke his boom and is still over 700 miles from finishing.
While the leading 60s approach Torbay, competitors in the 40-50-foot class are looking at a few more uncomfortable days at sea; many of them anxious get in to with enough time to repair their boats before the start of the long Leg 2 to Cape Town. Tim Kent, the amateur racer from Wisconsin, sailing Everest Horizontal has been battling with his autopilots, and had this to report today from 40.29.56N 33.50.16W.
“Getting to the point where you are comfortable letting an unhinged autopilot guide your boat through the night at 16 knots in 30 to 35 knot winds and 10 foot seas – and sleeping – only takes being very, very tired. So, I slept well last night and the boat cared for me very well. When it is this wild out, I drive the boat from down below, coming up or falling off with a touch of a button on the nav station. I hang out a bit under the doghouse, watching the wake jet away with the curious, hollow sound that it makes when the boatspeed is up in the teens. When I go on deck, I suit up in the Musto smock with the gasketed wrist and neck bands, so that one enormous wave doesnt soak me to the skin – and there are a lot of enormous waves.
“The wind really began to build yesterday and blew 30 to 35 all afternoon and night. Only now, just after sunup, has it moderated to 23 to 33, intermittent gusts that tempt me to shake out a reef, only have the rail buried moments later with the boat hurtling forward, shuddering with speed. The boat has performed flawlessly, even the autopilot has moderated its violent yawing somewhat, all in the interest of speed.
“Every action on deck is amplified. Taking in a reef becomes more difficult because the main is pinned to the spreaders by the wind – much care is taken getting it down without damage. Rolling and unrolling headsails takes care, to minimize the violent flogging that could damage the sail, foul lines, create some sort of unanticipated havoc. Even footing is hard in the cockpit. Heeling hard, getting to the high side requires grabbing a line thats snugged on a weather winch and pulling yourself up. I took one fall yesterday that gave me a sharp crack on the head. Next time up, I had on my crash helmet – theres no one to see me look weird. And in answer to the unasked question – I clip on every single time I am on deck, no matter what the weather. I promised my daughters, Whitney and Alison, that I would, and thats that. A promise is a promise.”
“If you are watching the track of the boats on the Around Alone website, you will see that I am heading south where my competitors are heading north. We are all trying to get around a big stationary high-pressure system that is wreaking havoc with weather patterns out here. Inside the high, there is very little wind – a bad place for a sailboat. Outside the high, there is plenty of wind, circulating around it counter-clockwise. I am trying to get to the bottom of the high and ride the wind back north again, while hoping that the boats to the north have headwinds to deal with while I am reaching. Its a gamble, and I have already made the decision. It will take a few days to play out – we will soon see if it was a strategy worth following.”