More trans-oceanic match races

Competition in the Open 50 class of the Transat Jacques Vabre heats up

Wednesday November 23rd 2005, Author: Mary Ambler, Location: United Kingdom
Mare Verticale, skippered by Joe Seeten and the Italian Cecilia Carreri, arrived in ninth position in the IMOCA Open 60 Monohull fleet at 06:16:08 GMT in the middle of the night here in Brazil. They have completed the course in 17 days, 16 hours, 16 minutes and 8 seconds with an average boat speed on the direct route of 10.23 knots, arriving 4 days, 6 hours, 57 minutes and 6 seconds after Virbac-Paprec.

Two more Open 60 monohulls are still racing at sea with under two days left to go: Maisonneuve-Région Basse Normandie, skippered by Jean-Baptiste Dejeanty and Alexandre Toulorge, and the only Brazilian entry, Galileo, skippered by Walter Antunes and Raphaël Coldefy. These two Open 60s are in company with the leading three Open 50 monohulls, as leader Gryphon Solo, skippered by Joe Harris and Josh Hall, is just 7 miles behind the 10th Open 60, with under 300 miles to run. Artforms (Stone/Owen) and Vedettes de Bréhat (De Broc / S Escoffier) are separated by 32 miles, roughly 30 miles ahead of Galileo, as they sail to the East of Fernando de Noronha Island aligned on the same route now on a drag race to the finish under 600 miles to go.

This race has highlighted several duels in the various fleets, Virbac-Paprec and Sill et Veolia most notably, also Ecover and Skandia, Gitana 11 and Géant, UUDS and Roxy, where the finish times after over 4,400 miles of ocean have been separated by less than 30 minutes. The passion put into racing from the skippers still out there is no less, as another two pairs of boats are in the final days of their oceanic match race.

Firstly, the Anglo-American duo of Kip Stone and Merf Owen, having made the biggest comeback in the whole fleet after their pitstop in Lorient, to now be in second place 256m behind Gryphon Solo, are engaged in the most exciting battle for the podium spots with the French skippers Servane Escoffier and Bertrand de Broc on Vedettes de Bréhat. The third placed French boat is positioned slightly to the east and benefiting from a better sailing angle, whereas Kip and Merf are certainly on a faster and newer Open 50 monohull. But the playing field levels after 1000s of miles of ocean racing, with the wear and tear and physical fatigue taking its toll, and when your sail wardrobe is somewhat lacking, as Kip explained in his log today:

“Now it's a 660 nautical mile reach/run down the coast to Salvador where we'll get the chance to see how well we're able to hold on with our reduced headsail options. We're able to sail high and we're able to sail low, but without our Code 5 reacher, we're forced to improvise our way through the middle. With the wind forecast to back as we make our way down the coast, this race within a race may hinge entirely on how quickly the wind swings around and for how long we're caught in the transition. Either way, it's a thrill for Merf and me just to find ourselves in the thick of it so close to the end, hardly imaginable when we cast off from Lorient two weeks ago. So, we're enjoying every moment of this ride and we're doing everything in our power to make it very difficult for them to slip by.”

Bertrand de Broc ( Vedettes de Bréhat), on the other hand, aired his concerns about still being able to catch up with Artforms before the finish: “This morning, we both passed to the east of Fernando de Noronha. Artforms was 20 miles ahead of us. The wind backed over night, and at this sailing angle, they are faster than us. It’ll be hard to catch them, we’d like a bit more easterly direction in the wind, above 90 degrees. Hope keeps us motivated! We want to be able to set the small gennaker. We’re doing everything possible on board, but not over-doing it as we don’t have much ground to gain, and we don’t want any breakages right now. The breeze is forecast to soften. With the speeds we have been clocking, we should be 200 miles ahead of ourselves but we have made some routing errors and hadn’t sailed much together before the start. We hope to finish by the end of Friday, as long as the wind doesn’t shift to the south much more.”

Still in the northern hemisphere and stuck in the Doldrums between 3-4°N are the next pair of boats in the Open 50 Monohull class, Top 50 Guadeloupe and Polarity Solo, skippered by Paul Metcalf and Ryan Finn, only 25 miles apart with 700m to go. Their respective boat speeds are starting to tick over 7 knots as they both near the Equator and nose into the new breeze. Speaking to the Anglo-American team on the satellite phone today, Paul did remark that their boat speed had been constant for the last hour, which was a hopeful sign, but night time may land them back in squall city. Ryan has his own ‘game’ to play in this sticky patch of unpredictable weather between the two hemispheres: “Well, I call it Squall Ball, we play this game in the Gulf of New Mexico, where the conditions can be pretty similar. On a boat out there, you’re like a pin ball bouncing off the squalls that come in. It’s pretty chaotic, they sneak up on you, 35 knots under a cloud, we’ve seen quite a few here and seem to have been in this for a couple of days. I was hoping we would be through higher up like the guys ahead.”

Leaders Harris and Hall on the red rocket, Gryphon Solo, have under 300m to go and should be arriving from Thursday afternoon local time, in good time for the American Thanksgiving, but I have a feeling it’ll be rum cocktails and Champagne Mumm on the menu tomorrow night!

The last 60ft trimaran, Gitana X, is due to arrive tonight into Bahia.

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