Buttons Padin interviewed singlehanded racer Nathalie Criou (@nathaliecriouracing) after her second-place finish in Class 1 on leg 1 of the 2023 Bermuda 1-2. Having sailed the 635 miles from Newport, RI, to Bermuda solo in just over 96 hours starting on June 2, on June 15, Nathalie will start the return, doublehanded leg with longtime sailing partner Blake Loncharich. Here’s a recap of their conversation:

UK: You do a lot of shorthanded ocean racing, but how much singlehanded racing do you do?

NC: I used to do a lot of singlehanded races, but there aren’t that many around these days. This was my first one for a while.

UK: What was the boat you sailed?

NC: It was my Figaro 2. I had the boat trucked across the country from the west coast for this race. The Figaro 2 is a twin-rudder tiller boat with both symmetrical and asymmetrical spinnakers.

UK: How were the conditions during the race?

Nathalie Criou Deck Shot Bermuda 1 2 2023

NC: It was as if there were three different races. We started in light winds coming out of Narragansett Bay only to have fog set in and the wind die. It was a drift fest for a while, but it was sort of fun as all the boats were still close together and there was a lot of VHF chatter.

The wind remained light up to the edge of the Stream but then the conditions became very different. I saw between 25 and 35 knots but it wasn’t gusty, so I didn’t constantly have to adjust the trim. It was a tight reach allowing me to sail near the rhumb line with a difficult sea state as the wind was against the current. The waves were steep and close together lifting the boat while at the same time breaking over the deck. The whole boat was wet! Close reaching with waves you could surf was fantastic. When you go from 9 to 14 knots that’s huge. I had a reefed main throughout this part of the race.

Initially, when the wind picked up approaching the Stream, I had up my reacher set from the sprit; but following the rhumb line didn’t get me to the surfing angle I wanted. I changed from my reacher to a jib and headed up. I had full water ballast helping with stability. I saw 14-16 knots of boat speed (surfing). which we don’t see regularly. Going through the Stream was fantastic. I even saw 18 knots of bsp. I thought this would be a very fast run, but then the conditions changed.

UK: What happened in the final portion of the race?

NC: Once I got through the Stream, everything turned to s–t. Within two hours, I went from 25 knots of breeze to 1. I was staying west of the rhumb line for the surfing conditions, and I was looking for a fast reach to bring me back to the rhumb line towards the finish. The router wanted me the other side of the rhumb because of positive current, but I didn’t think the pressure would merit that.

In those drifting conditions, I had up the windseeker because I couldn’t keep the spinnaker full. I spent 18 hours on sail trim to get the boat moving towards the finish covering only about 25 miles during that time. That was probably the toughest part of the race. The big winds were consistent making trimming easier, but the fickle light winds required constant adjustment. The wave train was pretty steady and, from a singlehanded perspective, that’s the best condition for racing because you can set up the boat and go to sleep. But that wasn’t the case towards the end.

UK: How much of the time do you steer vs. use the auto pilot?

NC: I spent very little time steering. I steered a bit at the beginning but after that I would steer only to set up sail trim and to get a feel for the boat. After the start, I shifted to the auto pilot quickly because you can’t steer as accurately and as responsively as the auto pilot over the long run. I did spend a lot of time optimizing the auto steering, but after that only needed to fine-tune the pilot. You really can’t drive and trim because every time I’d do both, the steering went bad. I really only steered in the transition phases when you had to make a lot of changes. Especially with the spinnaker up at the end because that was just fun.

UK: What spinnakers did you use?
NC: I used the A2 as the wind died toward the end before hoisting the windseeker and then the regular symmetrical spinnaker to make a beeline to the finish. It was a much better VMG with the traditional chute. In heavier air, the symmetrical is easier to sail because the boat is better balanced. The next fastest boat was using an asymmetrical, but he had to sail a further distance as I soaked allowing me to beat him.

UK: Who do you work with on your sail package?
NC: I work with Sylvain Barrielle in the UK Sailmakers San Francisco Loft. All my sails are from UK with the exception of a small spinnaker I rarely use and that came with the boat. The upwind sails are Titanium and the spinnakers Matrix sails. Sylvain advised us on the windseeker and that was definitely the money sail during the light stuff.

UK: On the 15th, you and Blake will start the doublehanded return leg. What differences do you anticipate from your singlehanded leg?

NC: For the return, the conditions may be very different. Probably not much spinnaker work and the weather patterns are still uncertain (at the time of the interview). With two, however, we will keep optimizing trim because with two, you don’t have to worry about getting overtired because you can sleep. On the second, there will likely be more current issues. Coming down, there were three models for the Stream, and they didn’t agree, so I just played the wind. On the way back, we’ll probably be more against the current, so I’ll have to spend more time on the Stream’s location and direction.

Learn more about Nathalie Criou Racing at http://www.nathaliecriouracing.com.

Learn more about UK Sailmakers Titanium and Matrix sails at https://www.uksailmakers.com

Now the weather patterns are more precise and it looks like a tight windy reach at the start, followed by a reach in medium air and then some tricky light air sailing in changing systems closer to Newport. fyi

Buttons Padin
Buttons Padin

Edward “Buttons” Padin is a lifelong sailor and a member of the Larchmont Yacht Club and the Storm Trysail Club in New York. He has over 40 years of marketing communications experience, with a focus on the sailing community.

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