Lac Leman, Geneva, Switzerland. 11th of June 2016.
This year’s Bol d’Or was another very long race, we were sailing for continuous 25 hours, it turned into a small weekend sporting adventure. Once again the crew was completely new to the boat, apart from the skipper. The crew were my father Carlos and my brother Diego.
We had from 0 to 30+ knots of wind speed, drizzle, pouring rain, baking sun, thunder storms, flat water and choppy conditions. It was a great test (yet another one) for the boat and the crew endurance. Admittedly, once again we learnt the hard way how tough the alpine lakes can be, and that the beautiful surrounding scenery can also turn quite dramatic when conditions don’t go your way.
Start Gun, 10:00am: We had a slow start as the crew were more into getting the grips of the boat rather than beating the other competitors, never mind, we still had a nice run downwind, initially choosing the centre of the lake to have more room for error and take advantage of the clean air, true wind speed at that point was around 10-12kts. As Sk2 is the smallest boat in the fleet (shortest water line length) with possibly shortest rig (despite being 8.2m air draft) it is important that we kept the hull planning at all times as every time we lost speed it took us time and distance to recover. Not being shadowed by hundreds of taller rigs around us was important.
The strategy paid off as we could see how we slowly were keeping up with the coastal pack but we were a bit higher which could have benefited us given the prevalent wind direction. It was a bet against the denser traffic coastal course that would require a greater number of manoeuvring. It was good fun as we were sharing the central part with other belated gamblers, we were constantly in close racing tacks with a Nacra 18 and a bigger trimaran, among other bigger sailing boats like and IMX-38, Esse 850 and a few Surprise.
After a few hours in the race, of course he fleet spread away quite a bit and as we passed Bellerive we started to come neared to the coast in view of turning around Nernier and gibe into a more direct course towards Chardonne. We were hoping for the fleet to compress at the bend around Nerner-Yvoire and slow down. It did work, our strategy paid off right at that point, while the wind was stable for a few hours we were sailing on SOG from 6 to 12 knots and VMG well over 12kts, and we advanced more than 30 positions on the ranking of our class, from being at the very bottom climbed up to the middle, from then on it was a tactical race to keep the position and try to advance more.
As the pack spread the wind shadowing disadvantage was not so relevant any more so we gibed South towards the coast to hop on to the shortest distance track. As we did the wind started to weaken and the showers greeted us as we gibed again in the direction of the coastal pack. We did not lose many positions around us, but the forward part of the pack had better wind and were well around Evian Les Bains, so we focused on our short term tactics and played with the weather more that we could with other competitors. So we started a few hours of shift-gust chasing while coming on and off the direct track. Speed was difficult to maintain.
As we passed Evian the wind almost died, the fleet packed up again within a few miles, we were just 1.8 miles from the leaders, there they were right in front of us stuck in a lull with their sails deflated. The little wind we had shifted higher up so a gibe was not an option as this would have costed a lot of ground and positions, so we had no other option to aim for the front pack and head towards the wind void, not a good prospect. Rain showers resume, there was not much we could do, we were at the absolute mercy of the lake.
At this point we saw Alinghi (M32 cat) already sailing back towards us, sailing even lower that the fleet tacking along the coast line, one a half mile down the wind, at 2.5-3knots of boat speed this was not an option to try, it would have taken too long and by the time we got there it may had changed he wrong way. We stayed with the pack, still heading towards the void, where our leaders were still moving at 0.5-1.5 knots. We took this moment of uncertainty and unavoidable fate to have lunch, went through our main food intake for the race, the rest would consist of protein bars, dried meat, nuts and chocolate bars, plenty of water and some VSOP for the night.
The wind steadied a little bit so it was time to review tactics again, the leaders pack had wind again, and siphoned down towards the coast line seeking the local wind shown by Alinghi on their way back. It was crazy to think that we were 5 hours in the race and the fastest cats were actually just a couple of hours away from crossing the finish line, they would be home for tea! We still had a World of a lake ahead of us.
As soon as we past Lugrin the fleet divided in two, the ones who were pushed by the shifting wind towards the coast line were now sailing on a close reach but moving slowly, we stayed more North seeking cleaner wind following our initial strategy. The other half of the fleet stayed with us, we were all sailing mostly upwind, closed hauled. The wind bent along the lake as we were tweaking our course pointing towards Bouveret the wind kept on shifting with us, remaining from the front. Boat speed was hardly over 3knots for a long time, we sailed on 0 to 5kts TWS for the next 8 hours. This was by far the most difficult part of the race, we lost a good number of positions as we kept on going from lull to lull, rain shower after the other for the longest hours.
As we were approaching the rounding mark we overtook several boats again, it was crazy to overtake someone when we were doing 1knot of boat speed, it takes forever to pass and then you immediately run into their wind shadow, so you have to tack if you can, but you risk slowing down even more, it was tense.
As we were passing other boats close enough to talk to the crews most of them were asking if we planned to abandon racing after rounding the mark, they were in true disbelief looking at us being so small and with no cabins to take a break and rest. Few competitors on bigger boats decided to abandon racing as they rounded the mark, so it was a bit chaotic as we went around the mark some boats were heading in the wrong direction trying to go home while the rest were trying to pass through at snail speed and make way back to the finish line.
At 20:54 we rounded the Bouveret mark in 82nd position, the same position we had at the start, form one point of view we were even but we knew we lost a lot of ground. It was now time to take tactical decision that helped us gain positions up the ranking. Of course we were there for the adventure but the long wind-less hours triggered a lot of anxiety on board and more than nothing we wanted to get away from the boats we spend the last hours with, it was time to move on.
We discussed the tactics over dinner, the dried meet went down very well, we needed energy for the night, the crew changed to the sailing gear wearing warmer and dry gear for the night ahead. We still kept on passing boats and managed to separate from the rounding pack, we were again close racing with the trimaran ADH4 and a few bigger boats of 30-40 ft long like Delher, Bemeteau, X-Yacht or Jeanneau. The leaders of our class were now 8 miles away from us, and they had better wind and VMG than us. It was going to be very difficult to catch them up.
We continued struggling to get any speed until around 01:00, we had Evian Les Bains on our rail, when the squall hit us hard, the boat speed went from zero to 7.5kts in a few seconds, VMG surged from 2-3 to 13-14kts. The squall brought a heavy rain shower that poured down on us, the sound was incredible, we had to shout to be able to communicate, then a sudden gust combined with an unexpected shift put the boat on the side, unfortunately the main sheet slipped away from my hands prior to this, it was a chaotic moment, the crew did not expect this, I guess at some point they realize that the boat was not going to immediately right back and they let go themselves in the water. I stayed on board hoped on the upper bulwark, we tried to reach for the main sheet to release the cleat and let the boat come back, but it was too late. Another strong gust pushes the boat further down and the rig started to go under the waves. Carlos was still trying to release the main sheet as the whole boat was coming over him, fortunately he swam away on time. On the mean time I climbed over the hull as she rolled upside down and stood by the keel.
Diego climbed up as well, we both stood up and looked around us, we could barely see anything, visibility was less than 50 metres due to the heavy rain. Then we look at the keel, it was canted the wrong way, we must have un-cleated one of the keel control lines when we were trying to release the main sheet. This was going to make righting the hull more difficult. My crew asked me if we should fire a flare and seek for rescue but I knew I could right up the boat, for the crew this was a very extreme situation, besides we were now fully soaked, it was cold and raining, this is what I call 110% wet. After a moment of thought, we decided to give it a go, try to right up the boat and not fire a rocket as yet, both crew swam to the back of the boat and stayed there holding to the boat and ready to come back on board.
I started the procedure leaning with over the keel, but this was canted so offered little resistance, after a while I achieved a partial angle and the boat started to face the wind, it was going well. Switched places and now stood over the keel with my feet on the bulb, she started to come back, and a few seconds later she was up. As she rolled back I climbed back up in the cockpit, the crew came on board easily through the open transom.
We were back on board, we quickly cleared the deck, tidy the lines, tied down the keel, drop the dagger board, tighten sail sheets and off we went resumed the sailing at full speed. We were safe, and in good spirit, I guess the adrenaline rush was still at peak. On the aftermath we realized that on the capsize we lost one nav light and the remaining bottles of water.
At 02:30 the wind died, back to 0 – 2.5kts of boat speed, I could not believe the wind was decaying again, we needed to recover distance and time lost, but more than nothing we needed to keep on the dynamic sailing in order to maintain the body warmth otherwise we would really struggle to continue in acceptable physical shape. But the rain came back to greet us and we had no water. At least we did not lose the VSOP, it kept us going for a while.
The day broke at 04:15 in a beautiful dawn with dark heavy clouds and the sun trying to come through. At that point we were more than 15nm behind the leader and we had Thonon Les Bains on the forward quarter port side. The morale was down, we were cold, physically exhausted and questioning whether we should continue. But we did, we had something to eat, more dried meat and nuts, drank lake water and kept on sailing.
06:00 Carlos was showing signs of hypothermia on its initial stage, constant shivering and at some point his legs were actually shaking, he was barely speaking. I guess he did not want to ask me to abandon racing we were very worried. We considered the options and decided that the quickest way to get him back to shore was to call the race control and ask for a rescue boat to meet us. So we did, at 07:20 a speed boat from the Swiss Police came to meet us, we stood alongside and Carlos went on board the rescue boat, he was attended by a paramedic and taken back to the shore.
We agreed with the rescue team that they would report back to the racing office and we would continue back to base as we were a few hours away after all we went through I did not feel like leaving the boat in a different location creating a further logistic struggle to be resolved later on.
We resumed sailing in very good spirit knowing that Carlos was in good hands, we were also hoping to not be disqualified due to receiving external assistance and for reducing our crew below the minimum required by the racing rules to be in the race. At this stage the wind stabilized at 5-7 knots TWS from the SW, e.g. on the nose, it was a tough beat upwind in a quest to finish the race as soon as possible, get home haul out the boat and eat, sleep and recover.
Our next target was Margot a 30-foot boat that was in front of us, she was in our class and we really needed to beat her by some distance to overtake her in corrected time. Also in front of us we had a J24 Jolly Jumper that we already over took the afternoon of the previous day and now was in front. All hands on deck, it was time to get back in the race and start beating the boats around us. After a few tacks we managed to at 10 minutes past 8 we already had the J24 and a J Sun Odyssey 31 at the same time. Next was Margot, but she was 2 miles ahead of us. It took half a dozen tacks to pass right by her stern, on the next one we had her. A 08:10 we past her in front at just over 4kts of boat speed.
The wind was building up gradually we were making over 5 kts at times 6.5, it was going very well. In front of us we had ADH4 the trimaran we had around us the night before and a Speed Feet 18 and a mini transat Mistral 650, the tri was too far to consider but was somehow comforting to think that at that stage we felt we have done more than enough and were quite pleased with where we were, and just passed the last boat in our class, although we were still keen to at least reduce the distance from the boats in front.
Finally, after a few more short tacks and wind lulls at 5 minutes to 11 we crossed the finish line. We were exhausted but very happy with the accomplishment and the boat, she behaved greatly and brought us back home.
It is needed to be said that if we compared Sk2 with a similar boat like Super Feet a Speed Feet 18, in a one to one comparison Super Feet made a better start, deeper down the wind and ahead of us, but half hour after the start we over took her and stayed in front of her with all along the lake until Bouveret that we went into the massive wind void for many, many hours she rounded the mark 40 minutes ahead of us.
After us capsize at half past 1 am she was 7.5 miles away and higher up the wind, 8 hours later they were just a 100 metres from them, as during the morning beat we gained on every leg, each tack we were nearer and nearer, in the end they finished less than 10 minutes ahead of us. Also remarkable was to race against one of the Diam 24 trimarans, with which we battle all along the way to Bouveret and we managed to round the mark 10 minutes in front of them. ADH4 over took us while we were inverted, it passed 30 metres from us, I don’t think they saw us. They finished only 28 minutes ahead of us. We still gained 10 positions in our class in reference to the rounding mark.
I am of course considering racing again next year, it is a long race, too long for SK2, however is also a great weekend adventure that can be very rewarding if the conditions prevail favourable.
The SK2 is faster than many of the bigger competitors on certain conditions (wind over 12kts) because she is a planning boat with a powerful rig, she has been known for sailing beyond 20kts of boat speed on strong conditions and near the speed of the wind on conditions between 8-14 knots TWS. She can put double digits on the speedo sailing upwind, and double this down wind. I believe she could be a really good competitor in TCF4, but need to have her rating revised as the current number is not realistic with the performance.
Sk2 is fast but not as fast as the handicap is marking. We should have a similar handicap to the Speed Feet boats. This time around we finished a little bit better than last year, despite all the ordeal, we even manage to beat in corrected time the Quant 30, a much bigger, faster and hugely expensive boat, and has a DSS foil.
Also is it worth mentioning that they were 72 boats that abandoned during racing plus one was disqualified.
We will come back again, next time we believe we should be on TCF4, although if we don’t achieve a rating correction we may then race on NJ in real time.
à bientôt Geneve.