Have you ever imagined skippering a 60-foot racing sailboat across the Atlantic by yourself? The idea of competing in a race like the Route du Rhum seems pretty crazy, even to the most experienced racing sailors. The physical demands of sailing the boats on snatches of sleep are enormous, even with an autopilot doing most of the steering. And the boats are multi-million dollar vehicles. Plus, you might have to work, right?
Well, from the comfort of your computer keyboard, you can now join me and other Boats.com readers who are competing in the race through Virtual Regatta. Don’t worry if you are a novice sailor in real life; you can learn along the way. Here’s what’s involved:
The race begins in St. Malo, France, on Sunday, the last day of October, and ends at Guadeloupe, a course of 3510 nautical miles. Your challenge is to navigate your boat, finding the right balance between the shortest course and the strongest winds, all of which are shown on a map of the course, including the predicted winds for the next three days. Along the way, you can choose the sails to set—generally a jib when sailing against the wind and a spinnaker when sailing downwind.
The race will probably take a couple of weeks, and assuming you can get to your computer on a daily basis, you can set your course and then check periodically to see if the wind has shifted. If it has (and it always does, just like in real life), you are likely to make some adjustment to your course to find some extra speed. Also, sometimes you’ll need to switch between jib and spinnaker.
Leaving your computer is somewhat like going belowdecks and taking a nap. The boat keeps sailing in the direction you set and as long as you have zoomed in on the map to make sure there’s no island in the way, you can stay below for extended periods. Of course, since your position is updated every 10 minutes, by coming on deck more often, you’ll be able to notice changes in wind strength and direction and adjust the angle of your course accordingly to maximize your speed.
It takes just a few minutes to sign up here. There’s no charge to register (although you can pay to have a smart autopilot or specialty sails). Just decide whether you want to race in the a multihull or monohull class, and choose your boat colors. Also, as a bonus, you'll be automatically entered to race in a Boats.com Division as well as the larger race, which already has tens of thousands registered! We'll be tracking the Boats.com group and provide a special prize to the best monohull and the best multihull. (More on that later.)
See you on the starting line.