Strong start for local heroes
It may have been a relatively gentle opening to the Vuelta España a Vela, but the local hero delivered neatly for an appreciative home crowd as the eight boat Open 60 fleet bid farewell to Hondarribia on the French-Spanish border at the start of a short 90 mile first leg along the north coast of Spain to Santander.
World 49er champion Iker Martinez has every reason to know how the fickle winds swirl around the start area, for the family home that the double Olympic medallist grew up in overlooks the line, almost on an inland transit.
Along with long-time 49er crew Xabier Fernandez, they ushered Movistar across the start line with slightly better speed than Pachi Rivero and Toño Piris on W Hotels-Nova Bocana and quickly took the lead on the mile and a half reaching leg out to a fixed mark.
I dreamed of a race like this when I was young and sailing Optimists here," said Martinez. "That was just a dream but it was impossible to think really that there would be a race like this and to start it from home.”
IMOCA Open 60 world champion Marc Guillemot and his crew on Safran were very quickly into their stride, challenging Movistar by the outer turning mark and again just short of the inner buoy at the start line, but the Spanish team held on to ensure that they inked in the story line that many of the 2000 or so spectators who lined the harbour walls and a fleet of more than 120 craft watching on the water, wanted as the famous Spanish sailing sons set out on their very first race in an IMOCA Open 60.
Ahead of the fleet the first leg is mainly forecast to be upwind, and looks set to offer just enough tactical options to ensure a close race with some compression points. At the start the breeze inshore at the line was just 4-9 knots, offshore it was into double figures. The key question for the teams to decide will be how far and when to venture offshore to reap the dividend to be had as the wind swings to the north and north west. This has to be balanced against the expectation that there will be more wind closer to the coast.
After making a relatively modest start, moving only slowly off the line, perhaps the most ominous sight was the speed at which Vincent Riou and Jean Le Cam wound up the new PRB. Early in the leg to the inshore mark 10 miles or so along the coast where the fleet pass PRB was dicing for the lead.
Prior to the start Jean Le Cam gave his views: “We are probably expecting a finish with very little wind, and maybe not so much at the start but some better winds in the middle. But the situation here is generally very variable. There is a small depression out in the Bay which will change the breeze a lot. And the high coast here in the north of Spain will always affect the wind as well. Nortmally we would expect a westerly wind but for the moment that’s not the case. “
Winds during the middle part of the leg are forecast to give the best racing, peaking at 15-18 knots - while co-skippers and weather experts seem to concur that a slow finish inside the bay in Santander, where the currents are significant, may be on the cards.
But none of the teams were, as usual, prepared to be pinned down on an arrival time in Santander…..as Dee Caffari – who made a strong start on GAES Centros Auditivos, noted sagely: ‘Probably around dark o’clock’
"We are okay in light airs, we are lighter than some of the others, but I think that PRB will love this forecast,” Caffari continued. “The low pressure is situated quite far south and so that will compress the winds and there will be some acceleration along the headlands. We will all want to go offshore, but we have the mark inshore at San Sebastian to keep us near the coast.
“It is looking like damp and drizzle. We are looking to get to the NW’ly or WNW’ly shift so we can go directly into Santander. But it comes from the N and reduces. Top wind speed will be about 18 knots, mostly 10-15 knots but coming into Santander it will be pretty light N’ly, NW’ly. So….nothing scary and a finish at dark o’clock!”