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The North Atlantic bites back

8th June 2009

Barry Hurley reports from the Ostar Race – As I write this I am warm and dry tucked up snug down below on Dinah. On deck is a very different story. Outside there is a sustained gale, blowing from the exact direction I want to go. I have temporarily stopped racing, purely by my own decision.

On Friday morning after a long hard battle, I made it up to first in class. Friday also marked the next stage of the course, entering into the foggy ice fields, and all the hazards that they bring. Everybody was aware of the large deep depression building over the Grand Banks. I spent a lot of time and effort studying the evolution of the depression, and I came up with a plan to best deal with it.
Yesterday was a fantastic day, as I headed for a position I estimated  would be just North of the centre of the low I managed to pull out a greater lead over those in my class. Right on schedule late last night the low hit, bringing terrible conditions. Terrible in nature, but at least favourable in direction.
This morning just after dawn I marked down a run of several hours in 40+ knots of breeze. Topping out at 45.3knts. Max batspeed ever of 18.3knts was acheived careering down the front of a wall of green water. It was exciting, it was fast, and it paid handsomely givng me a lead of close to 100m. But truthfully it was not safe, either for me or for the boat.
As the day progressed, it appears that I cut the corner a little fine and I have actually run too close to the centre of the low, giving me the same unfavourable conditions those to my South had all along. The boat was crashing over the waves, regularly simply falling out the other side, dropping 20 or 30 ft to the base of the trough beyond. I was making negligible forward progress towards my destination but each crashing crunching wave made me fear ever more for the boats well being.
So a few hours ago, I throttled back. I dropped most of the sails, and put Dinah in a hoolding position to safely ride out the conditions. it is very rare that when racing it is best to slow down, but I believe this is one of those moments. Dinah is a ight dispacement boat, not built to sustain such conditions for as long as would be necessary, so I believe I’m making the right decision.
It means I am effectively handing over the first in class position again, but at least safe in the knowledge that once I start racing again in a few hours time, the boat will be in perfect condition, and I will be well rested myself. This is one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, and it will be tomorrow morning before I really know the outcome against my competitors. Indeed, I may not know the full extent of this decision until the finish line.
I have to put the safety of the boat before any race. I am not willing to break the boat for the sake of a few miles that may be so easily won or lost again in the coming week. So when the breeze veers in a few hours time I will start a new race. A race of almost exactly 1000m, from here to Newport. I will be starting with a boat in just as good condition as when
I left Plymouth two weeks ago, but with the added knowledge that in normal conditions I can outsail my competitors in my class, and that Dinah has all the capabiity to beat her competitors. I will go to every effort to regain the lead that rightly belongs to Dinah.
For now I’m going to take one more nap. I can see the breeze aready starting to shift, and once I set off again I will not be stopping except to tie up in Newport. I hope I am not letting anyone down, and I pray that this was the correct decision. Time will tell. But at least both myself and Dinah will be here to fight another day.Barry

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