Leg starts on:
20 May 2018
So we are finally headed back to Europe
This is the last of the long legs, 3,300 nautical miles of trans-Atlantic crossing from Newport, Rhode Island in the USA to Cardiff in Wales. This leg is another classic, a status recognized by it being the final double-points leg of the race.
The whole idea of racing yachts across oceans started back in 1905, when hard-driving, three-time America’s Cup winner Charlie Barr, won the Kaiser’s Cup on the schooner Atlantic. They crossed in just over 12 days – not bad for a monohull even now.
So what will the weather throw at them?
The leg starts on 20 May, late spring, and the crossing should be dominated by the Westerly Storm Track (the wave of east-bound low pressure systems circulating around the Arctic and Antarctic). The start lies firmly in the Storm Track and unlike the previous race – when the finish was in Lisbon – so does the finish in Wales. This is the classic trans-Atlantic route, and as a result it should be both quicker and simpler.
Right out of the starting gate, the fleet will be looking for a low pressure system with their name on it, and once they find it, they will hang on as hard as they can. While Atlantic storms and waves don’t (theoretically) build to quite the same ferocity that they can reach in the Southern Ocean – because there is a lot more land mass in the Northern Hemisphere to break them up – it’s still a rough, tough and very cold leg.
What else is in play on this one?
Gulf Stream: The biggest complicating factor is the Gulf Stream, a powerful stream of warm water that originates in the Gulf of Mexico before flowing northwards out around Florida, up the eastern seaboard of the US to Newfoundland before setting out across the Atlantic.
This is not a uniform river of east-bound current, it swirls and back eddies in endless subtle and changing complexities. The navigators will be devoting a great deal of time and energy to finding and optimizing their route out of Newport and into the right spot on the Gulf Stream. If you do it right it’s worth about an extra four knots of speed – so this one is a race winner or loser.
More Titanic Moments: Ice can be a big factor on this leg, and it’s normal for race officials to set a northern limit for the race course. The idea is to keep the fleet away from the Grand Banks. This is where the cold water of the Labrador Current – which carries the ice down from the Arctic – meets the warm water of the Gulf Stream. It’s notorious for fog and bad storms, as well as icebergs. In fact, The Perfect Storm happened right here.
Azores High: Ok, so I know I said that this whole leg will be in the Westerly Storm Track, and this should be the case. But the Azores High (a Subtropical High Pressure Zone, a stable, semi-static area of High Pressure usually lying between 30 and 38 degrees) can drift a long way north in late May, and there is a chance that it will block the route to the finish in Wales.
A long leg with a long history
All the way back to the Kaiser’s Cup, this leg has seen plenty of drama and on one occasion tragedy. It was on the leg from New York to Portsmouth in 2005-06 that Hans Horrevoets was swept overboard from the deck of ABN AMRO TWO; although he was recovered after 40 minutes, he couldn’t be resuscitated. Just a couple of days after this terrible loss, the keel structure on movistar failed. A storm was inbound and forecast to hit 50 knots and so the crew abandoned ship – picked up by ABN AMRO TWO.