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Posted by on Nov 7, 2010 in Racing Sailboat, Sailboat Racing, UK, US |

Halfway Across the Atlantic, Alone

More than 200,000 would-be solo sailors are trying to get to Guadeloupe ahead of the rest.

I’m in the sailboat. The boat is making good time under autopilot, but when I wake up, I worry, and think I’ve got to go check on the windshift. I’m not getting wet going on deck, because I only have to go as far as my desk and my laptop to check the wind. In fact, my house is quite stable on its foundations beneath my feet. And yet, a very real part of me is out there, crossing the Atlantic Ocean, alone, on a high-performance sailboat, matching wits with rival sailors.

Join the Boats.com version of the Route du Rhum, an online multi-player game by VirtualRegatta.com

You, too, can join the Boats.com version of the Route du Rhum, an online multi-player game by VirtualRegatta.com

Racing across an ocean via my computer is more than an intellectual challenge. I’m not as tired as Roland Jourdain or Franck Cammas, the French sailors who are leading the monohull and multihull classes, currently. But I’m feeling, well, different. The race takes a toll. And yet it’s exhilarating to log in and find I’ve crossed a weather front and am now reaching fast in a stronger breeze, gaining miles on some of my competitors.

In fact, I’m just one of 237,522 people currently registered to race in the online version of the 3510-nautical-mile Route du Rhum La Banque Postale, which I introduced last week in “Race Across the Atlantic, Virtual-Regatta Style“. My contact at VirtualRegatta.com, Christian Dumard, a professional-level sailor, says about two-thirds of the skippers actively race the course after registering. (Apparently, the untended boats run aground, sooner or later.)

Being a competitive sort, I am taking part in the race. And hedging my bets, I entered both the monohull and multihull division. Other Boats.com visitors who registered through our site were, like me, automatically entered in the Boats.com Division, a sub-group where we keep track of the rankings of our players. Christian told me that the majority of all contestants choose to race a multihull, but that in the Boats.com group, there are 90 monohulls registered and only 34 multihulls.

A view of my racing dashboard, in which I can see where my multihull is and how fast it's going, and keep track of my friends at the same time.

A view of my racing dashboard, in which I can see where my multihull is and how fast it's going, and keep track of my friends at the same time.

The race started a week ago, on Sunday, the last day of October, and due to a server overload, I wasn’t able to steer my boats and get the spinnakers flying for the first few hours. Those who logged in early were in control and never looked back. But what the heck, there are thousands of boats close by for me to out-maneuver, and if I can finish in the top 5,000 that would be pretty good, I think.

A bit more than seven days later, our front-runner is Mav Rides Again in the Boats.com monohull class, with a commanding lead of almost 400 miles with less than 1,000 miles to the finish. This skipper navigated beautifully around the high-pressure area near the Azores and is in the top 500 overall, only about 150 miles behind the first boats…and I have to admit that by following his example, I’ve made some good gains in NorwegianWood (named after the classic wooden sailboat I usually race).

The rankings after seven days in the Boats.com monohull division show the leader, Mav Rides Again, less than 1000 miles from the finish. The Boatscom flagship has so far taken the unfavored route, but was moving well at last report.

The rankings after seven days in the Boats.com monohull division show the leader, Mav Rides Again, less than 1000 miles from the finish. The Boatscom flagship has so far taken the unfavored route, but was moving well at last report.

In the multihulls, Washchti is  dominating, but surprisingly, despite the multihull’s usual speed advantage, this boat is behind Mav Rides Again, for the moment anyway. Clearly, Boats.com multihull racers need to work on their skills, and I’m including myself when I say that. My multihull, also named NorwegianWood  has 1425 miles to go and has just about caught up to my monohull, which got ahead when I tacked it to the west off Cape Finisterre. I’m pretty sure that by Monday morning, the multi will be in front. Then again, there’s a monster wind hole stretching across the course that most boats will hit by Tuesday, so it’s still anyone’s guess who will get to Guadeloupe in good shape.

By the way, you can still join us in this race. Register here, name your boat, and you’ll be underway, released from what’s called the “pilot boat,” which is about two-thirds of the way back in the fleet. It’s unlikely that you’ll pass Mav Rides Again or Waschti (and neither will I!), but you’ll learn a few lessons you can apply to the next race…whether there are real waves rocking you back and forth, or just the springs in your chair doing their usual thing.