From the start, Race 2: Hundred Years Cup was set to be a highly competitive race. Now six days into the almost month-long battle and first ocean crossing of the circumnavigation, it’s unfolding to be a closely fought race between the fleet.

From the outset, the standings were shaken up daily. The teams pushed through the initial upwind conditions to reach the NE Trade Winds, providing some excellent conditions for the fleet to raise their spinnakers and enjoy the downwind ride.

Image: Time for spinnakers on Yacht Club Punta del Este

Clipper Race Director, Mark Light gives the latest update:

“Fleet progress has been really good since leaving Puerto Sherry and the tactical battles are starting to show across the fleet. Once clear of the Bay of Cádiz, the first major decision to be made was how to navigate past the Canary Islands. East, west or straight through the middle of the Canaries archipelago is an important decision, as picking the most efficient route through is essential, as the fleet stetches their legs and starts to close in on the Scoring Gate, and then onto the Doldrums Corridor, and beyond.

Image: Race Viewer 03:00 UTC Tuesday 19 September

“Now that the two teams who ducked into Stealth Mode (Dare To Lead and PSP Logistics) are back in full view, it is clear that we have a variety of strategies at play. The bulk of the fleet chose the eastern part of the course, lured by slightly stronger breeze and a south flowing current as they left the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura to starboard and tracked down the African coast. One team, Perseverance, took the option far out to the west favouring a more direct course, slightly shorter in distance and with less manoeuvres (gybes), but potentially slightly less wind.

“The two stealthy teams chosen the ‘middle’ route through the islands in between Gran Canaria to the west and Fuerteventura to the east, and the thought here is that they get an acceleration of downwind conditions funnelling between the islands, while slightly shortening the distance compared to the eastern fleet. A few extra manoeuvres were needed to thread their way through the islands, whilst being careful not to fall into the trap of sailing directly into the lee (sheltered light wind area) to the south of each island.”

Image: Race Viewer at 1500UTC 20 September 2023

For now, the fleet is enjoying fast, downwind conditions, with the crew developing their skills in helming under spinnaker, with the added challenge of helming at night, guided by clouds and stars as points of reference.

Ryan Gibson, Skipper on Dare To Lead reports: “The last 48 hours has seen some exhilarating downwind spinnaker sailing at its best and the crew including myself and Charlie are embracing this opportunity to sail such amazing ocean racing boats in their element, which is fast downwind sailing.”

AQP on Our Isles and Oceans Tom Newsom sums up the feeling of downwind sailing beautifully: “Downwind sailing is similar to breathing, the lungs equate to the spinnaker. The waves inspiration and expiration. As we round up a wave, the whole boat speeds and tenses up (particularly the skipper and first mate), the spinnaker fills, the helm turns hard to leeward. As the peak of the wave passes underneath, the spinnaker deflates, the helm turns to windward and the whole boat relaxes.”

With the first main tactical hurdle, the Canary Islands, now passed, PSP Logistics, Dare To Lead and Yacht Club Punta del Este are the fleet frontrunners, but with such close racing, only time will tell how the standings will look over the next few days and even hours.

Next up will be the scramble for the lucrative Scoring Gate bonus points, and then the tactical challenge of the Doldrums Corridor. Follow the fleet on the Race Viewer.

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