When to back off in big conditions

Published on March 31st, 2020

Andy Rice gets valuable tips from Volvo Ocean Race skipper Chris Nicholson on how to nurse your yacht through challenging weather.


To win, first you have to finish. Chris Nicholson needs no introduction to that old chestnut, having found himself in numerous hazardous situations in different parts of the world’s fierce oceans. In the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race, his Volvo Ocean 70 Movistar disappeared beneath him altogether when the boat sunk in the Atlantic.

It’s worth noting that many of the most successful helmsmen in the Volvo Ocean Race have come from a skiff racing background, including Rob Greenhalgh, Ian Walker, and the Spanish 49er gold medalists Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez.

Chris notes that many of the best helmsmen are not just the fastest, but also the most sympathetic when it comes to nursing the boat safely through heinous, potentially boat-breaking conditions – and that’s where those skiff skills can come into play.

But you don’t have to sail around the world to encounter some of the worst conditions. Most of us will never experience sailing in the Southern Ocean but Chris says if it’s a choice between the world’s most infamous ocean or the Bay of Biscay, “Give me the Southern Ocean any day over the Bay of Certain Death,” as he and others in the professional racing trade like to call it.

Should you find yourself sailing into Biscay, or anywhere else in intimidating conditions, make sure you’ve read Chris’s best five tips for backing off. – Full report

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