|Images courtesy of Expedition Navigation Systems|
|Normally by this stage of long oceanic races - six days in in the case of the monohulls, five in the case of the multihulls - substantial leads and separation generally would usually have developed. However this is far from the case in the Transat Jacques Vabre where Marc Guillemot and Charles Caudrelier's
Safran remains just 15 miles ahead in the Open 60 and at present Giovanni Soldini and Pietro d'Ali's
Telecom Italia is just 18 miles ahead in the Class 40s. The situation in the thinned out but very much more pacey ORMA 60 trimaran fleet is not this way however with
Groupama II having pulled out a 90 mile lead over the last 24 hours since exiting the Canaries.
Over the last 24 hours the Open 60s have been heading due south to pick up the best of the trades. Their track at present has them them directly through the Canary Islands down the channel between Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura but the wind is expected to veer round to the east around lunchtime today as they make their approach and this could see the lead 60s heading through the channel between Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
Weather-wise the depression out on the Atlantic is still affecting the trade winds, pushing the band of favourable northeasterlies close to the African coast so it is probable that the leaders will stick to the first of these options. Only south of the Canaries does the forecast weather show the tradewind belt opening up to the west.
At present Michel Desjoyeaux's Foncia and Loick Peyron's Gitana, just three miles apart and jockeying for second are on a similar track to Safran, with Groupe Bel and Ecover III equally close on a slightly more westerly track. The exception is the canny Jean le Cam on VM Materiaux who is furthest west of the front runners, but then his boat is perhaps between suited to the slightly lighter conditions to the west and he may also pick up the easterly shift first. At present VM is making equally good speed to the rest of the boats and may successfully 'cut the corner' .
While the leaders remain close in the Open 60s, a substantial separation of more than 80 miles has opened up between Sam Davies and Jeanne Gregoire's 10th placed Roxy and Dee Caffari and Nigel King on Aviva.
Mike Golding reports from Ecover III:
"We had a very freaky period of very light wind. We actually stopped very briefly which is why the pole shows down our speed. But we're up and moving well now and making a good course. So you know hopefully that will be shared around a bit.
"It's very tactical at the moment and the weather forecast is complicated and not always correct. Right now it's pretty straightforward. We have two sails going upwind or footing slightly it's quite easy at the moment. But during the last 24 hours it's quite been a lot of sail changes. We've been through spinnakers and gennaker and now we're on gennaker.
"It's only just south of east but it's more south of east than the forecast so it's making us worried in case we're on the wrong side of the ridge. But we'll wait to see what the morning … to decide how hard to push. We've got no serious damage and everything is fine on the boat despite her newness. Seems to be good. Were just learning the boat is taking us awhile and costing us a little time. Because we don't always know the right configuration, the right sail plan to run with because the boat is much different that Ecover 2, more powerful, more sail area and more difficult to work out what makes the boat go fast. We'd prefer to be where Safran is but he looks like he's made decision and that's fine but the weather model is changing so much and I think it's a little random right now. … These things have a habit of turning around."
Sam Davies sent this yesterday from Roxy:
“A peaceful night on board Roxy, after a gentle days sailing which allowed us to check everywhere for wear and tear caused by yesterdays crazy Cape Finistere rounding. I went up the mast to check the runners where they touch the spreaders. All is OK! Now we are trying to out-run the light winds behind us, and the sailing is tricky tonight with really shifty winds. Also, loads of shipping too still, so we are kept busy on deck! A great new discovery this evening was an American make of freeze-dried food - Mountain House's lasagnes!!! Delicious!
"This morning, I've just watched a beautiful sunrise, alone on deck as we slip along upwind at 10 knots. First of all, the sky became pink - everywhere different shades of pink. Even the sea turned pink too! Then slowly, the sun peeked over the horizon, amazing orangy pink, and right at the horizon (often there is some murky cloud that stops you seeing that). I took some photos, but I think that it is impossible to capture this moment for real and this is one of those occasions when I realise that I am amazingly lucky to be out here and see such marvels of nature.”
As the Open 60 approach the Canaries, the Class 40s are at present level with the south of Portugal and sailing in less breeze. The Italian duo on Telecom Italy are continuing to sail a relatively conservative down the middle of the race track kind of course, but over the last 24 hours Figaro sailor Bruno Jourdren and former cat sailor Nicolas Pechelin on the Rogers-designed Vecteur Plus have pulled off a flier to the west which has taken them up to second place. They remain on the right hand side of the race track compared to the Italian race leaders.
Now they are some 500 miles north of where the Open 60s are, the Class 40s are into different weather, albeit influenced by the same depression. As a result rather than heading south towards the trades at the Canaries as the Open 60s and ORMA tris have the lead 40s at present appear to be taking the weather thrown up by the mid-Atlantic depression. Telecom Italia's track at present takes her to the west of Madeira by which time the wind will have veered around to the southeast, ie reasonably close hauled on port. The leaders could head slightly east where the wind will be backed more but lighter. However the boats look set to be in for another pasting as they approach the northwest side of the Canary Islands where the forecast is for 30 + knot winds 48 hours from now. From there they will be into the trade winds and off...
While these are the tactics the Italians, Vecteur Plus and a few other boats on their track are likely to employ, there is still a gaggle of boats taking a more easterly route. These are led by Chocolats Monbana and Dominique Vittet's ATAO Audio System with Groupe Partouche even further east. Their present trackm just east of due south, has them passing to the east of Madeira and more quickly into the trades, but on a longer route. Which tactic will pay? We'll find out over the weekend.
Among the Brits, Simon Clarke and David Lindsay have had a better day in terms of the leaderboard having crossed the race track heading southwest and are now up to seventh from 14th. Peter Harding and Anne Liardet on 40 Degrees remain in 12th while Jo Royle and Alexia Barrier on the Pindar 40 have rised to 22nd from 24th after their mainsail car breaking incident off Cape Finisterre.
The boats to the east have dropped back over the last few days thanks to enjoying less breeze and a route causing them to diverge from the great circle. This has been hurting Alex Bennett on Fujifilm who this morning reported: “We are now on the move again, heading due south having passed Lisbon in around 8 knots of wind. The forecast shows for 11 knots later and we are expecting more wind as we level with Gibraltar. We plan on using this to drive ourselves closer to the rhumb line and back towards the fleet. It is likely we will pass to the east of Madeira, but our route after that is undecided – we are currently weighing up the options.
“Yesterday gave us time to rest and an opportunity to eat. The boat is clean and all the jobs we had outstanding are done, we are just waiting for the wind to pick up. We are confident the fleet will come together at some point. It is early days and we are by no means out of the race yet!”
Nick Bubb reports:
"Since around 1600 UTC Thursday we have had a light NNE'ly wind of around 5 knots. Very welcome after our day of drifting, but still slightly concerning that some of the fleet where making 7 knots at the last position update. It remains very difficult to tell which strategy will work out best and we are keeping our options open. Although we did prefer the East, it seems the stronger Northerlies are now only close inshore and out to the West it is looking like the possible upwind conditions could be more tight reaching...humh added to that we really have to consider how the fastest point of sail differs according to the wind strength! All part of the game but for us it is about not doing anything extreme and trying to stay in the game all the way to Brazil still over 3000 miles away.
"It looks very much like we will pass to the East of the Madeira and probably through the middle of the Canaries to try to benefit from the acceleration of the wind caused by the islands. Will it be tempting to stop, no way we have a race to win.
Thursday evening a little later....
"We are doing everything we can but it seems for now that's not enough...
We are following a direct line of about 210 and our planned routing coincides with Deckmans numbers, it all looks ok but it isn’t quite working out yet and that just isn't good enough!
We are fine together though and just more focused on delivering a result and pulling up the fleet. It is close still, 8th place is just about the same distance from 19th as it is to 20th...
ORMA 60 positions