Battening down hatches

Estrella Damm still ahead in the New York to Barcelona record challenge

Wednesday April 14th 2010, Author: Maria Bertrand, Location: none selected

W Hotels continues to eat small, hard won miles into the lead of Estrella Damm and with these little gains the hope that the Mediterranean, and the stretch for home to Barcelona, may provide her crw of Pachi Rivero, Toño Piris and Peter Becker with a tactical opportunity or a chance to use their strengths in light to moderate airs to gain victory ahead of her rival in the first New York to Barcelona record challenge.

After nearly 2,000 miles of hard racing against their Farr-designed sistership and now just 16.9 miles behind their rival, W Hotels’ co-skipper Pachi Rivero concludes that their opponents have a slight speed edge in the stronger winds, but the W Hotels trio is doing a good job of staying resolutely within range. They are already looking at the weather models the Mediterranean and opportunities to press home any advantage.

“We are not really doing anything to prepare for the weather which is coming, the boat is already well prepared for most things. The only thing we are doing is spending more time on the weather just to really see what we think will happen. We reckon we know pretty well what is coming. 40 knots is not so bad. We have been in worse situations and so we are not getting alarmed or anything like that. We are going to carry on and if we have to change for the weather or the seas then we will do that, maybe go a little more downwind.

“We have been sailing with the Solent and one reef. We are making about 18 knots of boat speed and have about 28 knots of wind. The waves are not too big yet, but our main focus is just concentrating on staying with Estrella Damm so that we can be in a position to win. They are perhaps a little quicker in these stronger conditions, but there is not much in it. We are only 20 miles behind, so we are going to cross the low and when we get to Mediterranean we could be able to pass them when there is maybe less wind.

“We have already started looking and discussing what we would like to do in the Mediterranean.

“We broke a couple of batten cars and battens a couple of days ago but we managed to fix them. We are really happy with the work our shore team did, the boat is really well prepared. We are very comfortable and happy with the boat.”

Meanwhile both crews are preparing to deal with the next two or three days of big seas and big winds which are forecast to reach 40 knots at times, before they can gybe downwind into the Strait of Gibraltar. The winds and seas produced by the low pressure system they are crossing to the west of at the moment, will be unpleasant but nothing that at least the four Spanish co-skippers have not experienced before.

W Hotels’ maintenance has included replacing a couple of battens and repairing batten cars which were damaged two days ago. Otherwise both teams confirmed they are in excellent shape. Offshore rookie American Stan Schreyer, sailing with Pepe Ribes and Alex Pella on Estrella Damm, said today that he was now well into the awkward rhythm of sleep snatched at different periods over 24 hours, and the more ad-hoc eating plan than he enjoys at home. “This has been the first sunny day we have seen for a little while. I don’t know about another two months or something, I think I’ll be happy just to get to Barcelona. To be honest I have been pretty tired on these first days, I feel like I am really into the routine of sleeping and eating as such now. I am feeling much more comfortable like that in tune with the boat now.”

The two IMOCA Open 60s are expected to reach Gibraltar on Monday depending on how they fare with this slightly complex low pressure system. Both would like to see the low moving north as scheduled, allowing them to sail as few miles as possible and to reach the favoured downwind conditions sooner, and strategically there is an advantage to be had erring as close to the centre of the low to sail fewer miles.

Estrella Damm's Pepe Ribes said: “We don’t have anything really prepared for the weather that is coming. We will just deal with it as it comes and try to keep the boat going at the optimum angle. We are sailing at 095 degrees and are just trying to go as fast as possible across the low. We are making about 18 knots of boat speed and have 20 knots of windspeed from about 035 degrees. The seas are from the NE about three metres but it is not too uncomfortable right now. We are waiting to see what happens with the low and will respond as it comes, but we are already well prepared."

Standings at 1300hrs GMT Wednesday

1. Estrella Damm (ESP), Ribes, Pella, Schreyer: 1701.4 miles to finish
2. W Hotels (ESP), Rivero, Pires, Becker: 1718.4 miles to finish (+16.9 miles)

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