Combining the strong currents and choppy seas of the English Channel with countless navigational hazards and a course that takes sailors north of 60°, RORC’s Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race represents one of the most challenging yacht races on the planet. The iconic quadrennial race, now in its 8th edition, begins Sunday at noon and has attracted a near-record fleet of 28 yachts ranging in size from a couple of 33-ft Beneteau Figaro IIs to a MOD 70 trimaran and includes a smattering of Volvo 65s, Open 60s, Class 40s and a healthy IRC fleet.
The 1,802-mile course is slated to begin in Cowes, Isle of Wight, off the south coast of England, and send competitors on a nonstop clockwise circumnavigation of the British Isles. However, Mother Nature may change that. As has happened in the past, (including the 2010 race), a major low has set its sights on the British Isles and may force race organizers to reverse the course to counterclockwise, though the storm has been downgraded and looks to push south towards France.
Sidney Gavignet’s MOD 70 Musandam-Oman Sail is hoping for conditions that will allow her to break the race record, though an outright course record is unlikely. (The course record was set in 2011 by Banque Populaire V; 3d, 3h, 49m). The most interesting battles look to be between the all-new Volvo 65s and the Class 40s. With five VO 65s on the line for one of their first real practice races before the October start of the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race, the Round Britain and Ireland Race should offer a thrilling preview for what lies ahead. Others to watch will be the legendary Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who, at 75 years young, is doublehanding his ancient Open 60 Grey Power (Giovanni Soldini’s old FILA), and the brand-new Sam Manuard-designed Class 40 Stella Nova, which will have American ultra-badass Ryan Breymaier onboard.
Follow the action by tracking the race here.