World records in offshore races don’t get beaten that often. Rarely do they get smashed to smithereens. Usually, it’s the advance of science and technology that sees a few minutes, maybe a few hours or perhaps days in the real distance races, but over short course RORC races, records are things cast in stone. It’s not normal.
Well the Rolex Middle Sea Race threw up something out of the ordinary this weekend as the Russian owned Comanche with its mysterious, un-named, rather shy owner sailing in his first ever offshore race had a blinder, shaving over seven hours off the monohull record and you’ll never guess who was driving… yes that man again – the world sailor of the year by a country mile, an aeon, a generation, a galaxy…Tom Slingsby.
Comanche didn’t so much as break the record, they shattered it into little pieces and set a mark that may, just may, never be beaten. With an all-star, dream team, prime-time crew skippered by Mitch Booth with the likes of Kyle Langford, Slingsby and Will Oxley onboard, Comanche fought hard for the win but in perfect conditions, this is one that is set to stick around in the annals for a very, very long time.
It’s like Usain Bolt running the 100 metres in 9.58 seconds. It’s the New York Yacht Club holding the America’s Cup for 132 years. It’s Wayne Gretzky getting 2857 career points. It’s Rocky Marciano 49 and O. Tough to better.
When a sailor of the stature of Neal Macdonald says something is nigh on unbeatable you listen: “The chances of going downwind across the top of Sicily and then downwind across the bottom again is zero.”
And for Comanche it was anything but a breeze as ranged against what was formerly the-most-awesome-machine on the planet was not only George David’s perennial winning goliath Rambler 88 but the utterly sublime and stunning yacht-of-the-moment, Skorpios – the highest ever rated IRC yacht in history. How Comanche bested Skorpios is one for the fiction shelves. Tell the grand-kids in 30 years time and they won’t believe you. But Slingsby is making a habit of the impossible…
In one of the best race reports I have ever read in yachting, James Boyd writing for the International Maxi Association absolutely nails it and to be honest, it’s so good and so thrilling that it’s worth publishing in full. It simply can’t be bettered:
Modern-day high-performance monohulls typically don’t go upwind well. Fortunately, in this race there was perhaps just an hour of upwind for frontrunners when they tacked to get around Capo Passero at the south-eastern-most tip of Sicily on Saturday afternoon.
Often competitors get held up passing through the Strait of Messina which narrows to just 2 miles between Sicily and the Calabrian coast. Not so this time, McDonald explained: “We shot out like you wouldn’t believe – at 20 knots in flat, flat water in the middle of the night. These boats are wind creators: You don’t need much to generate so much speed with the massive rig. It was multihull speeds in a monohull – phenomenal.”
Both boats experienced issues at the Strait – Comanche blew up a spinnaker entering the Strait, while Skorpios came to a grinding halt suffering furler problems exiting the Strait. “When you have a furling problem on a boat that size, you are in the hands of the weather gods. You are thinking about how much runway you’ve got,” said McDonald. The net result, plus Comanche assisted by the tactical and navigation cunning of Tom Slingsby and Will Oxley respectively, was that the two were neck and neck up to the northeast turning mark at the volcanic island of Stromboli with Rambler 88 slowly losing ground on her bigger rivals.
Passing north Sicily was the windiest part of the race when they saw at times 25 knots. “It was full-on, downwind, pedal to the metal- just marvellous,” continued McDonald. “It wasn’t wavy, so you’re not really surfing, but still doing 20-25 knots. I thought that would be the time when they [Comanche] hammer us, but when were next to them, they were higher and faster and we were lower but clearly our VMG was better, because we were slowly drawing ahead.”
The ride was exhilarating but wet on Comanche, which hit 32 knots. “It is good fun – a lot of spray, a good ride but very wet. The amount of water that comes over the boat is mind-blowing, especially with our boat being so low,” recounted Booth.
This was compounded by further sail issues for Comanche. “A couple of hours after Stromboli it started building and building. Then we broached and blew up another spinnaker,” described Booth. “It is not an easy boat to broach! We were pushing so hard, doing 30 knots of boat speed, on the edge and it just spun out and [the kite] flogged and blew it up. But that’s racing – you push to the limits. We were lucky we had a third that we could put up and continue on.”
Passing Trapani, Skorpios was again leading until disaster struck, this time of Mother Nature’s making. Even before the start the forecast showed the area between Trapani and Pantelleria as volatile. So it proved as Skorpios got stuck in the windless hole created by a rain cloud. Remarkably, the fastest monohull in the world, the most highly rated ever under IRC, stopped dead. “That cost us 30 miles,” said McDonald. “We went in there 12 miles ahead and came out 7-8 miles behind, which rapidly turned into 20. It was mortifying. We were flapping around, stopped. I saw 0.01 knots…”
Comanche was able to pass to the east of the parked up ClubSwan 125. “The breeze went a bit squirrelly and we snuck by them,” said Booth. “We thought we had better keep covering from there, but as the breeze filled, we started to extend again.”
Wow. What a race. And what a tremendous scene we’ve got at the very top of the maxi game. It’s great to see and these ocean classic races are absolutely at their mercy now. I wonder if the Rolex Sydney-Hobart will relax its 100 foot maximum rule to encourage Skorpios into the fray – perhaps not this year but wouldn’t it be terrific to see that black and yellow hull thundering out of the Sydney Heads and down that coastline to Hobart? What a sight.
So the final delta for the record books sees Comanche clocking 40 hours, 17 minutes and 50 seconds – a full 7 hours 37 minutes and 13 seconds improvement on the record. Stunning. It’s 16% faster than ever recorded for a monohull. Incredible.