Hurricane Bertha helps make it a breeze for Round Britain racers

Volvo 65s SCA, skippered by Sam Davies, and Azzam, skippered by Ian Walker.  Picture: Rick Tomlinson/RORC
Volvo 65s SCA, skippered by Sam Davies, and Azzam, skippered by Ian Walker. Picture: Rick Tomlinson/RORC
Sir Francis Chichester on Gipsy Moth IV.

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Records could be set to tumble as the postponed and rerouted Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race got off to a flying start in The Solent yesterday.

Boosted by the remnants of Hurricane Bertha and a 30-plus knot westerly wind, the 28-strong fleet blasted past Portsmouth following the 9am start from Cowes, hitting speeds which will see the course record shattered if conditions persist.

Leading the way is the maxi-trimaran Musandam-Oman Sail, which was averaging 30 knots of boatspeed in the first few hours of the race.

Even by mid-afternoon yesterday the high-speed multihull was off the Norfolk coast and heading north on the 1,800 mile race.

‘We could be very close to the record but I am not sure at this stage that we will break it,’ said skipper Sidney Gavignet.

‘The computer says we can, but the reality is that the sea state will probably slow us down a bit – and we will still have 40 knots overnight, so for this we don’t want to rush as the quicker we go the more wind we will have.’

The five Volvo 65s also put on an impressive show for spectators and fellow competitors, with the all-women crew of Team SCA – led by Portsmouth’s Sam Davies – leading the way from the start, though they had fallen back slightly by the time the fleet reached the Dover Straits.

Warsash racer Ian Walker’s Azzam held a narrow lead in the VO65 race-within-a-race as the monohull fleet approached the Thames Estuary yesterday afternoon.

‘What a sight,’ reported Conrad Manning from the relatively diminutive Figaro II Rare shortly after the start.

‘The VO65 fleet just came screaming past us and we can see Oman Sail flying on one hull at an incredible speed.

‘We are really flying as well, it’s blowing 30 knots out here and the speedo hasn’t dropped below 10 knots since we started.’

Anticipating strong winds as Bertha approached the UK, race organisers the Royal Ocean Racing Club first reversed the race route on Saturday – sending the fleet around Britain and Ireland in an anti-clockwise direction – and then postponed the start from midday on Sunday to protect the fleet from the worst of the forecast weather off the east coast.

In the early stages the IRC class was being led overall by the Volvo 70 Monster Project, narrowly ahead of Cowes-based Brian Thompson aboard the IMOCA 60 Artemis-Team Endeavour.

Also aboard an Open 60 – though with only one crew for company – was Southsea’s Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who was taking a more conservative approach to the conditions and was propping up the bottom of the two-handed class.

Varuna, Arwen, Scarlet Logic and Change of Course were leading classes IRC Zero to 3 respectively.