All Change in the Menai Strait

The morning after the night before everything can look so different. It was soon after dawn when the runners from the lead 2 boats returned and climbed back aboard, ready to race up the Menai Strait. However, this is a treacherous stretch of water, swept by fierce tides and full of dangerous rocks and obstructions. With the tide dropping and running against, and the Reflex 38's having big keels, it was a time for cautious competitiveness.

Team Reflex were away first, and no other team in the race has their experience of these tricky waters. But they were not to get far. Skipper Geoff West wanted to get into position beyond the national watersports centre at Plas Menai and moor up to wait for the tide to turn, but his crew were all labouring away at the oars (they have 4 on board), trying to make headway. So he risked a direct line .... and ran hard aground close to the shore.

Behind him the same fate befell 'Leopard Clipper', who could not make progress against the tide and only a few hundred yards from the pier they had just left, they too were swept aground.

Team Reflex tried everything to move the yacht, even wrapping a rope around a nearby navigation marker (ironically the one they should have passed outside of) and attempting to winch themselves clear, but they were stuck fast, and stuck for a very long time. Leopard Clipper were in the same position.

It would be close to high tide before they could refloat, a wait of more than 9 hours, during which time other boats would sail by and build up a strong lead. In the space of half an hour the race was thrown wide open again.

'Simply Red' was the next to leave, moving slowly against the tide, but with much more water below her. Serenely and very slowly she passed the 2 grounded yachts, now lying at a marked tilt, their keels and rudders exposed. They were followed by Charter Continuum and there could be no more graphic warning to Skipper Ian Hudson to be careful, than the sight of other 2 Reflex 38's. But their misfortune was his gain and he could now push for the lead.

In the first hour out from Caernarfon Simply Red were enjoying being in the lead, a position we never dreamed of being in, but ever so gradually Charter Continuum won the slow motion battle , and moved ahead passing beneath the first of the 2 bridges. By now the team were using their huge oars and gaining a marked advantage over Simply Red who only had a couple of small paddles.

Going into the dangerous area known as The Swellies, between the 2 bridges, it also gave them the momentum they needed to maintain steerage, as they passed through just after slack water. They area has many submerged rocks and normally passage is only recommended at close to high tide. Steering a perfect course Charter Continuum avoided all potential hazards, only slowing and spinning in the swirling tides once. However, they quickly regained control and swept under the bridge.

Simply Red did not do so well. Without oars and with less speed they were at the mercy of the rising tide and steered a course onto the submerged, Priceís Rock. The strong tide did push them clear, but they had no control and continued backwards for a while, before spinning, drifting sideways and ending up hard aground again. This time they were there for half an hour, losing time on the leaders and concerned at what the outcome might be. After many ineffectual efforts to free themselves the tide inevitably did the job and they were underway again.

Behind them the rest of the fleet were moving up, and past the 2 overnight leaders, whose problems will not be over once they refloat. If they fail to get up the Strait and through The Swellies when the tide lifts them off, and before it turns, they will not be able to make it through. Then they will have another 6 hour wait, and a huge deficit to make up, especially chasing the other Reflex 38, Charter Continuum.