After a fast easterly crossing of the Atlantic, comparing very favourably to the existing 60 foot monohull record of Bernard Stamm set in 2001 on the traditional route from Ambrose Light to the Lizard, there is the prospect of a slow finale for the two New York to Barcelona sailing record IMOCA Open 60s Estrella Damm and W Hotels.
Estrella Damm’s passage time for an equivalent 2,925 miles across the Atlantic, albeit on her more southerly course, is unofficially timed at around 7 days 23 hours. Stamm’s crossing in 2001 was 8 days 20 hours 55 minutes and 25 seconds. In comparison that represents an average speed of around 15.31 knots, compared with Stamm’s 13.79 knots.
For the two three-man crews aboard Estrella Damm and W Hotels there was little time to reflect on the pace they have enjoyed across the Atlantic. Estrella Damm was in the Strait of Gibraltar early this afternoon, her crew more concerned about their routine of regular tacking, a lack of any real conclusions from the different weather forecast models, and the proliferation of vessels in the busy shipping lanes.
Pepe Ribes on Estrella Damm said: “We have to be sharp because we are about to tack and we are in the Straits sailing more on the Moroccan side. We are going upwind with the wind at 18 knots, tacking all the time. In fact these winds are completely different to what we had seen on the forecasts. We were expecting still southerly or south westerly and we have easterly.
"We are not really conscious of comparisons with other records. We certainly know e have been fast but now we are getting to the coast and to Gibraltar and that is going to screw up the averages. But the average for the Atlantic itself is really high.
"As for an ETA for the finish, well it is really hard to say because the forecasts keep changing and never seem to agree. It could be anything.
"There is a lot of traffic here, at the moment on the radar I can see 70 boats”
On W Hotels, equally, there was little time for self satisfaction. They have been steadily recouping some of the losses they sustained over Thursday and Friday as a result of damage to their port rudder. Estrella Damm passed Tarifa light at 1436hrs GMT, while Pachi Rivero, co-skipper on W Hotels reported an hour earlier that they still had 134 miles to go before they would pass Gibraltar. But since yesterday W Hotels has recouped the best part of 40 miles on Estrella Damm, which has led this New York Barcelona sailing record challenge from the outset.
On W Hotels Pachi Rivero said: “ We are 144 miles from the Strait. We are doing 17.7 knots with the wind at 164 degrees. We are tacking, a little bit more eased upwind. It is a bit before we will see the coast yet, but we are quite keen to see a boat because it has been a few days since we have seen one. All the repairs are holding up well.
"We can see from the forecast that the wind is dying in the area in which Estrella Damm is, but we don’t really know how much we will catch them up, or if we will get a chance to pass them. But at the moment this is our chance to get closer and we will take all we can.
"The weather forecasts are not playing out as they say. Conditions are different to what we expected.
"There is not much wind in the Med. There is an area developing in the Med which promises no wind and I am just a little worried that Estrella Damm will be able to cross it and we might get stuck. We should be in the Strait in around 10 hours or so.
"We are not conscious of any other record times. I guess at least if we were ahead we might be thinking of it, but after these problems our focus is getting closer to Estrella Damm, we can’t really think how fast we’ve been.”
Of concern to both crews has been the lack of clarity to be drawn from the recent forecasts for the Mediterranean. Both boats were on the wind this afternoon - but for Estrella Damm’s this was at least featured in some forecasts, whilse out further to the west American crewman Peter Becker thought their easterly might be a local effect.
Certainly no one is predicting a quick passage up the Spanish coast to the finish at Barcelona, but the four Spanish crew split between the two boats know the waters well, both the inshore micro effects and the big picture offshore patterns. At the moment Estrella Damm has the upper hand with less than 550 miles to the finish, and 10 knots VMG, but – as they say -anything could happen.
Peter Becker co skipper W Hotels: “We have some local winds which are different to the winds that we wanted but we’re fine. We are working hard to go forwards as fast as we can.
Of course the IMOCA Open 60’s are much faster than the big boats I am used to sailing. These are wonderful boats and the two guys are wonderful too. I think the main thing I have seen and learned is the remarkable friendship which has been created, and the very important lessons from these phenomenal offshore sailors, every little thing you see is learning in seamanship, decision making and management.”
Standings at 1300hrs GMT Saturday
1. Estrella Damm (ESP), Ribes, Pella, Schreyer: 535.2 miles to finish
2. W Hotels (ESP), Rivero, Piris, Becker: 663.7 miles to finish (+128.4 miles to leader)