Fastnet in focus

Text by Jonno Turner
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Fastnet in focus Text by Jonno Turner
 
"We took the approach that we were mainly racing against Dongfeng," smiles Team SCA navigator Libby Greenhalgh.

"We didn't really think about the others. It was always about the one-design racing for us."

Behind her, her teammates buzz around, decked out in familiar magenta, and it's almost a deja-vu moment. But this isn't Alicante, Abu Dhabi, or Auckland.

Nope, we're in a very wet Cowes, just after the ninth-edition of the Artemis Challenge.

That's a race around the Isle of Wight, which takes place annually at Cowes Week, one of the most celebrated sailing regattas in the world.

This year, two of the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race fleet participated - Team SCA, and Dongfeng Race Team. It was the all-female team who came out ahead in the battle of the 65s.

"Luckily, we started really well," explains Libby. "They caught us up, and we had a bit of a slow period going down the rest of the Solent.

"But after that, we kept it safe, we knew where they were. I wouldn't say it was plain sailing, but we were happy.

"They're a fast boat. They didn't have their full race crew onboard, but they're still a fast boat."

Indeed, the Chinese team was skippered by Shore Manager Graham Tourell, and also included Jack Bouttell, who stepped onboard the red boat in Leg 3 from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, as well as shore crew.

And there were also changes onboard Team SCA too, with experienced helmswoman Carolijn Brouwer taking charge on board in the absence of Sam Davies.

How much difference does that make onboard, I ask - especially to a navigator who enjoyed a close relationship with the Briton?

"Well, the dynamic will always be a bit different when you change people," says Libby. 

"In terms of navigational stuff, it was a little different for me not having Sam onboard, but we had Aksel Magdahl, our navigational coach, helping out and supporting.

"But we went around the world with a squad which was pretty much a rolling group, so we're used to it. Carolijn has done all of our In-Port Racing and leg starts, so it wasn't wildly different on that front."

Looking ahead to the weekend, Team SCA are going to be racing the Fastnet Race - a legendary 608nm sprint around the British Isles.

Starting from Cowes, the fleet will beat west, around Land's End, and up to the southwest tip of Ireland, before rounding Fastnet Rock and heading back towards the finish line at Plymouth.

"I think the biggest challenge is going to be day one," explains Libby. "There will be light winds, and lots of tide.

"It's going to be a tidal race, and those who have got the intricacies of that will do well. I also think that, the first day, there's a lot of information out there, so you can probably get it right.

"But it's that first night, when the wind goes really light, that the local knowledge of those who know the headlands and the valleys will make a really big difference."

She smiles. "It's all about research and looking at the weather. I think after the first 24 hours we'll have all got going - if you position yourself right after that, you should probably be safe."

Almost exactly a year ago, Team SCA were lining up on the Cowes start line for the Round Britain and Island Race, desperate to see how they compared with the rest of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet after two years of training in Lanzarote.

"It's weird, as this time last year we were itching to go and do the Volvo," Libby laughs.

"We did a few races in Cowes and it was the first time we'd really sailed against the other boats. Now we know just how well we can sail, and how to race them, so there's a different element there.

"This is going to be like a short leg, and that's what appeared to be our biggest strength at the end of the Volvo.

She turns to look at her teammates. "Everyone just wants to keep going. We achieved a huge amount, won a leg - and we won it by the biggest time margin in any leg, which is even more impressive.

"We all know that we're highly competitive and can give anyone a good race - and that's just what we want to do, get back out there."

I ask the million-dollar question. Is Libby thinking about the next race yet? Has it got into her blood?

She laughs. "I thought about it from the moment we crossed the line in Lorient. I remember thinking, 'right, now the race has started. We know we can do this.'

Then, with a smile. "I think, for sure, everyone is thinking about the next race."