by Louay Habib

Organised by the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, the 10th Azores and Back Yacht Race (AZAB) will start from Falmouth in June 2011. The course covers about 2500 miles of ocean, approximately 1220 miles on each leg. The majority of yachts usually take between 7 and 10 days to reach the Azores, allowing a week or so to relax and restock for the return passage. 

Mike Sturrock and Tim Taylor will be racing their Sadler 34, Stratagem, double-handed to the Azores and back to Falmouth and they will not be alone. So far 104 teams racing under IRC, in a huge variety of boats, will be making the trip. 

"My co skipper is Tim Taylor. Anyone who's named after a real ale can't be all that bad! Laughed Mike Sturrock. "We met when both working for BSkyB. Sharing a passion for sailing, biking and beer was a good basis for a friendship. Something about our similar sense of humour and lack of respect for authority, means we work well together, and Tim is a great sailor and good shipmate."


Aboard Stratagem

Mike describes why they decided to enter the AZAB and how they came about choosing the right boat:

"As most of these adventures start, it was in a pub. After a few pints the plan was hatched to complete the AZAB. Two experienced sailors, approaching mid life. A few quid in the bank, successful careers, and families but bored. Even in the cold light of day, it still seemed a good idea, so we started to plan it all out. We had two years before the start, so there was time in hand.

The first plan was to charter a racing yacht but after much investigation it proved to be prohibitively expensive. It was cheaper to buy a yacht and then sell it afterwards. We then looked at yachts around the 34-foot size for around our budget. Settling upon the Sadler 34, after looking at many others from the late 80's of that size.

It was then down to finding the right one. Finally settling on Stratagem, a well travelled example, having completed a circumnavigation and suitably equipped. But the boat was in a tired state, it been neglected in the Med. for a number of years. After months in the Baltic Wharf shipyard with major work on the hull, electrics, electronics and rigging and she was back in good shape and up to CAT.1 ISAF Standard."

All of the competitors for the AZAB must complete a qualifying passage, Mike Sturrock and Tim Taylor chose the Falmouth 500, which took them from Falmouth, around the Fastnet Rock, out into the Celtic Sea and back to Falmouth.


Mike Sturrock

The Falmouth 500 qualifier was a mixed bag. The weather was either totally becalmed or headwinds of up to a Force 7-8. The boat performed really well, though more work was needed on the rig and sails, as she was tacking through 100 degrees. We had one mishap, having to drop the No.1 off the headfoil in a force 8, in order to fit the No. 3. But we lost it over the side, very infuriating. We are fitting a detachable inner forestay this winter, for the main race.

We worked really well together and sailed well. Although it's been 20 years since I'd spent so long at sea, the routine was very familiar to me and easy to fit back into. We both suffered from a bit of nausea (not quite seasickness) for the first couple of days, but once into the four-hour watch routine, we got enough sleep and were well rested when we finished in Falmouth.

Two handed sailing presents several challenges. Being alone on watch for 4 hours at a time can be challenging. Without either the company, or the ability to check with someone else about any developing situations it can be a challenge. Such as, crossing a complex shipping lane at night.  During the qualifier we had lunch and dinner together and worked on any boat maintenance at this time. The upside of the small crew was that there was plenty of space onboard with no overcrowding.

Probably a great quote from Mark Twain sums up why we have decided to compete in the AZAB."

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

For more information about the AZAB 2011 go to:

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Header images by:

John Crawley (CAN IRC)  
Jinno (c/o JPN IRC)
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