Golding into the lead
|Images courtesy of Expedition Navigation Systems|
|Even after more than a week at sea competition remains blisteringly hot in the Transat Jacques Vabre monohull fleets with the leaders holding just 15 and 17 mile advantages. For British race fans the big news over the weekend has been Mike Golding and Bruno Dubois on board the new
Ecover III moving into the lead in the IMOCA Open 60 class. Giovanni Soldini and Pietro d'Ali continue hang on to first place in the Class 40s.
On Friday the Open 60s negotiated the Canaries and the frontrunners are now soon to pass the Cape Verdes, some 180 miles away from Ecover IIIat the latest sched. The Brit 60 took the lead at the first sched on Sunday morning having passed ahead of Groupe Bel by 50m over night!
Over the weekend the frontrunners have been sticking close close to the African coast where the breeze is best. However some have taken this to more extreme limits than others with Michel Desjoyeaux on Foncia and Bernard Stamm's Cheminees Poujoulat pretty much within sight of the Western Sahara/Mauritania coast all of yesterday. Most have remained 100-150 miles ashore maintaining position on the race track by gybing downwind. While Foncia and Cheminees Poujoulat have now gybed in from their beach holiday, even now other contenders for the lead such as Kito de Pavant's Groupe Bel and Loick Peyron's Gitana Eighty are on a course to the east of south in order to stay in the best breeze.
While Ecover III appears to be leading this is mainly by nature of her being furthest to the west of the leaders Golding and his sailmaker are nearer to the great circle than the rest of the leaders.
A crew that appear to have different ideas are Jean le Cam and Gildas Morvan on board VM Materieaux, who having been one of the more westerly boats now have gybed to head even further west. Watch this space.
The problem with the easterly tactics most of the leading boats are trying is that it is potentially not good for the next step of the passage south - the Doldrums - where generally it pays to be west.
Yesterday Mike Golding reported:
"We are still with Bel. Bel is visible probably about four miles back. We are just waiting for the left hand wind shift to come this evening so we can gybe out again and that should be in the next hour or so. Otherwise it has been more of the same. Steady going. I think yesterday and to lesser extend the day before have been very much the same kind of pattern. Which is good because we did good at it last time and so hopefully we can repeat that tonight.
"Looking at this evening's positions it does not look very god for Foncia and Cheminées Poujoulat. VM Materiaux is a little more dangerous because he is further west, but it depends on what his (Jean Le Cam) strategy is at Cape Verde, because we are thinking of passing to the east and of course by doing that you avoid the wind shadow. So it if he is going to try and cut the corner again then it will be interesting. We have our strategy and he has got his and we will just have to see which one pans out.
"We have about 11-13 knots of breeze just now, but to be honest we have never had time to calibrate the instruments properly!
"There is not more pressure to be leading. Of course it is cool. But it is turning into a great race. Any one of these three or four boats up here could do it. It was interesting to watch Foncia because we did not think they really had to go that way, it was a bold call. I kind of think he went that way because he thought Safran was. It looked like on of those do or die moves.
"But we are moving well and it is crazy after more than a week of racing to be this close. With Bel it seems like we have been attached by a piece of string, which is nice because they are clearly in a quick boat and are a pair of good sailors."
Sam Davies writes from on board Roxy :
So it's news time again.Time goes so quickly when you're here! I've just sat down at the chart table after gybing, which innvolved waking Jeanne up for the manoeuvre. She is sleeping again, and Roxy is bubbling along under spinnaker with the autopilot steering a great course relative to the true wind angle.Since I last wrote, my cold is almost better - hooray!!! But it has left me tired and so I am trying to catch up on lost sleep. That's why things have been quiet! Since my cold is better, also, I have re-discovered my sense of smell, which on a racing boat after eight days at sea (in hot climes) is nothing to celebrate. Luckily, Roxy is not any old boat, and you all must know that girls boats smell of flowers all the time,so that's okay!! BUT! There is a hitch! I think. A few days ago, we had some cute little birds on board. The snag is that I have found a lot of feathers, and (unfortunately) a nasty smell in the bilge around the keel box!!! So, tomorrow's mission, as soon as it is light, is to try to locate the possible source of smell and feathers (dead bird???!!!) YUK We are closing in on the approach to the Cape Verde islands, so today I was reading my notes from the weather lessons about the passage through or round the islands, and also about the Doldrums (Pot au Noir) as we need to start studying the strategy for getting through these obstacles. It is great racing here in the IMOCA 60 class, albeit a bit frustrated not to be in the leading pack where the race is so close, we are avidly following the leaders and their tactics and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top!
Compared to their 60ft big brothers the Class 40s are very much more spread out over the race track as the front gaggle pass through the Canary Islands this morning. Again the general principle over the weekend has been to stay east, away from the depression that has been hovering to the south of the Azores since the start, however this has now all but dissipated causing a shallow area of high pressure to form some 700 miles SSW of the Azores, however because this is so far south from the traditional location of the Azores high (ie over the Azores....) it still means that the conveyor belt of Trade winds is much more scrutched up against the African coast. The good news for the Class 40s is that the Trades they will experience is due course should be much stronger that those the Open 60s experienced.
At present, as the chart above shows, the Class 40 fleet is passing through the Canaries on a wide variety of courses. Race leader Telecom Italia is to the west of the islands, followed by Bruno Jourdren's Vecteur Plus and Arnaud Aubry on Sidaction, the leading Pogo 40, which made great gains over the weekend by cutting the corner and heading west of Madeira. Top Brit is Simon Clarke in fifth who also passed to the west of Madeira and is currently the most westerly boat in the fleet.
Meanwhile Damien Grimont's Chocolats Monbana is leading the charge between Las Palmas and Gomera while Dominique Vittet's ATAO Audio System is first through the passage between Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Tanguy de laMotte and Nick Bubb on Novedia Set Environnement look set to be heading for the gap between Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura (Bubb hoping he will have more luck here than when he took this route in the Mini Transat two years ago!) while Groupe Partouche, which has been consistently the most easterly boat since leaving Portugal in her wake, has left all the Canaries islands to starboard.
While it is further from the great circle (indicated by the black line on the chart above) the forecast is showing more wind to the east and this could start favouring boats on this side of the race track in the next 48 hours, even if the most northeasterly (as opposed to the ENEerly) wind direction requires them to sail a less hot angle.
This swansong for the class is perhaps deservedly all going Franck Cammas' way on board Groupama II. Since opening up a narrow lead he has put more and more into the bank over the last few days and this morning is an impressive 318 miles ahead of Gitana II. At 2degN Groupama II is now out of the Doldrums while Gitana II and Banque Populaire are still in the thick of the Doldrums, allowing Cammas' green flier to make further gains. Banque Populaire is in third, ahead of Sopra Group and Brossard, despite a pitstop into the Cape Verdes on Sunday to slot in a new rudder, which the team had had jetted in there...