Dunmore East sailors Mike Murphy and Darren Nicholson completed a 2-handed Atlantic crossing in February, racing against 75 other 2-handed competitors, as well as 25 solo. The French race, called the Transquadra, is for amateur sailors over 40 and is run every three years.
The race is run in two stages: the first runs from St Nazaire, on the coast of Brittany, to Madeira, and the second stage from Madeira to the French island of Martinique in the Caribbean.
Mike takes up the story:
The race is a full on French experience. The French are the only nation in the world who do this type of racing. Preparations are intense and very time consuming. Safety is a high priority and for us there was a big learning curve in getting up to speed on the standards required. Food, water and fuel supplies are critical decisions. Other key considerations are communications and energy consumption.
The first stage is all about getting round the point at Finisterre on the North West coast of Spain. We knew there was a high moving in and the gate was closing fast. We missed it by 2 hours resulting in 12 hours becalmed – a delay we never made up despite being one of the fastest boats on the course for much of the remaining leg.
The second stage from Madeira started in light winds. The race is generally downwind, taking advantage of the North East Trades and so it proved. What was surprising was the wide variety of weather, wind and wave patterns within a 24 hour period. There were plenty of boats around for the first few days, but after that, sightings of boats were rare. However, we were receiving position information of the entire fleet twice a day and so were well aware of the fleet around us; where the leaders were, their heading and their boat speed. It is fleet racing on a grand scale.
As a first experience it took us a while to come to terms with all the information we were receiving – daily weather predictions, and routing forecasts. The general view is that boats crossing East to West should head South until they hit the real Trades and then turn West. However, at the start we knew that there was good wind across the course for the first few days, with a high approaching whose direction was uncertain. Boats went in every direction but very few went straight south. We took a middle course. The winds strengthened both in the North and in the South, we decided to go North. Later when the fleet headed South, we were well to the North with a lot of distance to recover.
Winds were very varied and night sailing under spinnaker was made more difficult by some very dark nights and 30 degree wind swings. Windspeeds could increase rapidly under dark clouds and one such gust resulted in the destruction of our heavy air kite. We were left with an asymmetric and our full kite for the remainder of the race, which required critical decisions as to when to sail conservatively and when to push on. In some of these strong gusts four boats were de-masted.
The leaders got away through a narrow gap in a front crossing the fleet – they spotted it and were able to get through, opening a gap of some 50 miles. After that it was a full on downwind leg in winds of 15 to 30 knots, lots of surfing and just hanging on, trying to cover the fleet behind whilst seeking best angles to close on the leaders. Email messages of support and guidance from family and friends were great to receive.
We finished in 23rd place in just over 15 days. The welcome was tremendous!
Would I do it again? – Probably!