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Twenty Twenty-Four starts in style

by Mark Jardine 8 Jan 16:00 GMT
Arkea Ultim Challenge - Brest © V.Curutchet / GITANA SA

It was almost two years ago that I wrote 'Twenty Twenty-Four', looking forward to a bumper year of sailing, leaving me wondering how time is flying by so fast. While in the wider world we continue to head down the dystopian path, the first week of the year has started in extraordinary fashion.

Firstly, let's have a quick look back, albeit it only a couple of weeks... We finished 2023 on a high note, with Australian Editor John Curnow orchestrating our coverage of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. With correspondents on the ground and in their air, we brought you all the action during the points of interest, including the thrilling line honours battle between andoo Comanche and LawConnect.

A special thanks to Dale and Cros Lorimer for their brilliant coverage, and Tony Lathouras in Hobart for knowing the place to be to catch LawConnect on their charge up the River Derwent as they reeled in andoo Comanche to secure the line honours victory. It's no mean feat bringing this all together, leaving you having less sleep than a doublehanded navigator / helmsman, so many thanks John.

Back in the UK we've been battered by a succession of storms, but thankfully there was a brief window of respite on New Year's Day to get out and sail at my local club, participating in the traditional 'Rum Race'. First job was re-threading the halyard on my Keyhaven Scow, which I'd taken off ahead of the storms (to reduce windage), then out on the water to join 22 dinghies in a jovial celebration of all that's good about sailing. For the first time anyone can remember in the race, we had a general recall, and a fair bit of bumper cars, but mostly just laughter and great competition. I simply can't think of a better way of starting 2024.

In Australia, a highly competitive 100-boat fleet is competing in the Tasar World Championship at Sandringham Yacht Club. A strong contingent of North American sailors are making their presence known at the front of the fleet, with Jonathan Mckee and Libby Johnson Mckee leading the charge. As a UK sailor, you know when a fleet is hot when you have to look outside the top ten for Steve and Sarah Cockerill's names, and we'll be tracking this event closely as it reaches its finale.

On Saturday I travelled up to the outskirts of London to take photos and video of the GJW Direct Bloody Mary at Queen Mary reservoir. This is a true winter classic and attracted 185 boats onto the water. The pursuit race format usually leaves everyone guessing until the very end as to who will win, but Sam Pascoe in his Musto Skiff showed a devastating turn of speed to reel in the early starters, going on to win by a very comfortable margin.

The winter events in the UK are brought together so well in the Seldén SailJuice Winter Series, coordinated by Andy Rice and Simon Lovesey, and here Pascoe has had a superb season so far, winning the Draycote Dash, the Datchet Flyer, the Grafham Grand Prix fast fleet, and now the Bloody Mary.

Roll on Sunday, and two more massive races...

Let's start with the Arkéa Ultim Challenge - Brest, as things simply don't get any bigger. Six foiling Ultim trimarans set off across the Bay of Biscay to start a battle around the world. Remarkably, these 32-metre-long leviathans (which can be up to 23 metres wide) are being sailed singlehanded. Just trimming a sail, or taking in a reef, takes a herculean effort, so the idea of 50 days at sea on one is beyond daunting.

Early on Monday morning they passed Cape Finisterre, recording speeds of up to 45 knots during their intense first night at sea.

Tom Laperche, skipper of SVR-Lazartigue, summed up the situation by saying, "It's the dead of night, we're going down towards Cape Finisterre and we're all side by side with the different boats. There is a super irregular wind, which is quite rare: one minute we're at 40 knots, the next at 15 knots, and what's more, we're slaloming between the cargo ships! It's not easy but I managed to take a few naps. The start was great, a lot of emotions as we set off round the world but very happy to have left. The procedures and the progress went well with the team. It was beautiful to pass Ushant and the start line in the lead."

We wish all the skippers safe passage in what will undoubtedly be an exciting race, but one that is fraught with difficulty and danger. Hitting an object in the sea at the speeds these craft achieve can have catastrophic consequences, and they are pushing the boundaries of technology, so the risk to them all is very real.

Also under way is the RORC Transatlantic Race, with a diverse fleet, ranging from MOD70 trimarans and the mighty 100 foot Leopard 3, down to Sun Fast 3600s, setting off from Lanzarote to travel the 3,000 miles to Grenada. The fleet enjoyed a downwind start with flat water, 10 knots of breeze, 20-degree temperatures and a sizeable spectator fleet. We'll be following this race closely as well and wish all the competitors fair winds and safe seas.

Elsewhere we've been covering the ILCA 6 Women's Worlds in Argentina, the ILCA Australian & Oceania Championships in Adelaide, alongside a plethora of other events, and I haven't even mentioned the events discussed in the Twenty Twenty-Four article two years ago... the Olympics, the America's Cup, and the Vendée Globe. Undoubtedly, it's an immense year for sailing!

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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