Biscay snakes and ladders

As Figaro boat meander their way back to France on leg 2

Wednesday August 5th 2009, Author: Sabina Mollart-Rogerson, Location: United Kingdom
Since yesterday’s light airs start at Coruna, the returning northwesterly breeze has comprehensively shuffled the pack, as the 52 boat fleet heads back across the Bay of Biscay on its way to the second leg finish at St Gilles Croix de Vie. Having successfully side-stepped the patch of flat calm that presented the leg’s first major obstacle in its opening hours, by this afternoon the skippers had ticked off the first 150 miles of their 365 mile passage. For now the fleet remains relatively closely grouped, and in the fickle conditions each successive ranking brings numerous position changes.

From aboard one of the accompanying safety boats Race Director Jacques Caraes summarised the situation this morning: “The small weather front has now passed through. Some boats stayed becalmed, others benefited from bands of better breeze, particularly in the west, as in the case of Jérémie Beyou ( Bernard Paoli) and Nicolas Lunven ( CGPI). The whole fleet is presently above the rhumb-line route in anticipation of the next shift, when the wind should go into the north. Right now we have up to 12 knots of north-westerly breeze where we are, the rain has stopped, the sea is easier and there are no real big choices to make; it’s just a question of having to keep looking for every bit of speed.”

With the exception of Louis-Maurice Tannyeres ( Nanni Diesel), 32 miles back from the leader after choosing to stay close to the Spanish coast overnight rather than heading directly offshore with the rest of the pack, the expected large gaps have yet to appear. Across the fleet, from northwest to southeast, and from front to back, there is little more than 12 miles between extremes, and no less than 40 boats are within five or six miles of the leader. For now speeds are in the 7-9 knot range, and it is obvious from the boats’ tracks that the skippers are making numerous small course changes in search of every possible pocket of extra pressure.

With such local variations the lead has changed numerous times, and there have been some spectacular gains up the fleet. Both Beyou and Lunven left Coruna very badly placed, but have since gained more than 40 places each, with Beyou the latest to move into the top spot this afternoon, previously occupied by Laurent Pellecuer ( Arnolfini.fr) overnight and by Charles Caudrelier-Benac ( Bostik) earlier today.

British skippers Jonny Malbon (Artemis) and Nigel King (Nigel King Yachting), presently placed 41st and 35th respectively, will nevertheless be relieved to have stayed in contact with their competitors, without any deficit in boat speed, and within 5 or 6 miles of the leaders.

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