Through The Swellies or Round Anglesey?
That was the choice facing teams after the Snowdon run, whether to head into the Menai Strait with the fierce tide against them, or exit the Strait the way they had come in and take the longer route right around Anglesey.
For many years it really wasn’t a choice, the Skippers wisdom and preferred race route was through the strait, risking the difficulties of the Swellies, holding position, sometimes anchoring, and waiting for the tide if necessary. In the past not many have ‘gone around’ and made the tactic pay off , but in the last couple of years it’s been tried and the first boat to leave Caernarfon this morning set off ‘round the Island’.
That was Wandering Glider and when I grabbed a word with one of the crew just as they left he said, “We’ve been discussing it at length, and think there may be less wind behind the island so we could get through but then be slower.” So they set off around Anglesey and really they should know as the boat is sailed out of Holyhead.
Soon after that Wight Rose was on the pier waiting for the return of their runners and I chatted to Geoff West, the most experienced and successful skipper in the race. He was surprised anyone would go round Anglesey but wondered if it was partly about manoeuvrability . “It’s shorter that way anyway,” he said, “pointing up the Strait towards the Swellies. There is plenty of wind this year, and you get the same tide out in the Irish Sea anyway.”
It’s a judgement call and a tactical choice and there are plenty of those in this race. This year opinion was more divided than ever and The Roaring Forties and Peaky Blinders followed Wandering Glider, and so too will Jumpa Lagi because of its 3m keel depth. (Don’t Look Down is still tracking in Caernarfon so I don’t know about them.)
The Dougie Dalzell Memorial Trust managed to push through the Swellies against the tide and break out first after a battle with Peak Performers, with both crews rowing for that extra % of a knot while trying not to go backwards, or at times not lose ground as fast the other one. Somehow the Bavaria 36 got through while Peak Performers were stuck in the Swellies, drifting backwards and forwards for well over an hour near the Britannia Bridge.
The Dougie Dalzell Memorial Trust are having a great start to the race, having had no hold ups on Caernarfon Bar and a fast running time on Snowdon, and their passage of the Strait built on that good start to open up a lead.
Once the tide had turned and with the wind still blowing from the South West and rising, subsequent boats passed through the Swellies (between the Britannia and Telford Bridges) much more swiftly, with little sail up.
Geoff West and Wight Rose sadly never got as far as the Swellies as after the Snowdon run their replacement runner, Andy Sanderson, was taken ill. After stopping in Port Dinorwic for a while to see how he was it was decided he could not continue and the team are retiring from the race.
With the luxury of Satellite tracking race followers can now see almost the teams out in the Irish Sea, heading for Whitehaven, and scroll the time line back and forth to see which route was the most successful for the different teams ...
It’s not easy to say. You’ll have make your own judgement call on that. (Comments are welcome on our Facebook page.)