Timing is everything. For Jersey based British yachtsman Phil Sharp who is making final preparations to set off into the hostile December winds and seas to set the first benchmark record for sailing from Land’s End to John O’Groats, from one end of Britain to the other, making a judgment call when to set off from Land’s End is key to the success of the mission.
As is often the case ocean racing it is not the sheer wind power and velocity which is the real enemy to fast progress but the size of the seas. Being caught off the extreme North west of Scotland, where the full force of the Atlantic crashes into relatively shallow water and a lee shore, is potentially the most hazardous stage of the passage.
“As it stands we look to have a reasonable window for a Monday start or early Tuesday. What we want is to be able to ride a low pressure system for as long as possible, downwind in SW’ly winds and not have a low go over us during the passage. If we left then we should see a maximum of five metre waves. If we timed it wrong then the prediction is for more than 10 metres and that becomes really difficult.” Sharp said at midday today as he prepared for the delivery passage from Gosport to Falmouth where he will wait to make the final call.
“If we left early Tuesday morning that would get us to John O’Groats on Thursday, daytime, which would be fine. But right now there is a lot, lot of wind forecast Friday and Sunday and you would not want to be on the water then.”
Yesterday, Wednesday, Sharp had a two hour shakedown sail on the Class 40 yacht with Sean ‘The Beard’ Conway, the adventurer who will join Sharp and boat owner Alex Alley on the 650 miles passage. Non sailor Conway will be seeking to add a fourth ‘discipline’ to his three remarkable end to end adventures. As the first person to have walked, run and swum from one end to the other, Conway believes this will be the quickest, but without doubt the most dangerous.
“The most time I have had on a boat was the three months with my support boat when I was swimming and the one thing I do know is that I suffer from sea-sickness.” Grimaced Conway in Gosport yesterday.
Phil Sharp, whose objective with his Energy Challenge project is to compete in the solo non stop around the world Vendée Globe race next November said today:
“To be honest now I have that feeling of nervous anticipation, you just want to get going. We had a good sail in the Solent. That was the first time I have met Sean and it was fine. I think I can be sure he will not be complaining, clearly he is the kind of guy who will get his head down and get on with it. In fact it puts the pressure on me not to complain!”
Summarising the course he concludes:
“We will be heading up the Irish Sea to the east of Ireland during the passage, and it’s fair to say that the seas there, and off the coast of Wales, can be awful. Then, North of Ireland, we will be emerging again into the full onslaught of the Atlantic swells, so we have to be careful here as it also gets very shallow around the Hebridean islands of Islay – ironically, the home of Bruichladdich our sponsors – and Tiree which can kick up a dangerous sea. We will pass inside the Outer Hebrides before rounding Cape Wrath, the northwest tip of Scotland, before heading East to John O’Groats and the finish. This north coastline is incredibly exposed to the worst of the winter storms, so it will be critical to avoid arriving here in heinous conditions.”