After a slow passage through the Straits of Gibraltar the overall leader of the Vuelta a España a Vela, Marc Guillemot and the crew of Safran, have eased away to lead by just under 20 miles from the Spanish duo Pepe Ribes and Alex Pella and the crew on Estrella Damm.
While they struggled today through patchy headwinds which re-shuffled the order several times fighting in to the Middle Waypoint scoring gate off the NW corner of Morocco, the benefit of emerging from the Straits first into the stronger 15 knots breeze this afternoon has allowed Safran to stretch their lead a little.
Navigator Charles Caudrelier (FRA) pointed out that he, co-skipper Marc Guillemot and their very experienced team were happy to have banked their gains for the meantime, but with that three hundred miles of mainly upwind sailing to Calpe and the usual light overnight winds expected through their first night in the Mediterranean, their lead is anything but solid.
Safran led to the scoring waypoint early this morning, to earn the lowest points 0.5pts for being first there. Estrella Damm followed less than 45 minutes later to earn 1pt, PRB got there in third just about 18 minutes after Estrella Damm. Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella rounded just ahead of W Hotels Nova-Bocana.
The easterly breeze is forecast to continue but the strategic question is how to play the coastal breezes. Near the coast the sea breeze effect means more wind pressure which will increase during the afternoon, but potentially there is the chance of sailing more distance to get it, and there is always the chance of being becalmed late afternoon and evening and spending hours rooted to the same spot.
For certain there is a battle going to continue up the Alboran Sea. As they set up for the first full night of racing in the Mediterranean, GAES Centros Auditivos, and W Hotels had set up further east, towards the African coast, while PRB and Movistar were on very similar tracks with less than one mile between them. Movistar, which has double Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux on board, was back up into second place.
Charles Caudrelier Benac co-skipper on Safran (FRA) reported: “We have had quite a hard night, really a very unpleasant night. We have had some unpleasant problems with fishing nets around here. But thank god we have managed to get away in these light airs. We got the wind back an hour ago and had to go offshore to find it. We are not sure how long it will last after we are out of Gibraltar, but for the moment we take every advantage we can.
"We know that it has been very difficult for them to round the buoy, and the last time I checked them on AIS [coastal radar system] they were about six or seven miles behind, so lets hope they don’t stay there all day, but half a day’s grace would be nice.
"The Alboran Sea is very tricky, the models don’t really add up and so you really need to be very opportunistic. I’ve been here two or three times and not once have I had the same weather patterns that I was expecting. And so we have a three hundred miles beat and that is a lot of upwind sailing. There are certainly some tricks we can do, and certainly the wind is going to change quite a lot so it will be very complicated to stay at the front until the end.
"Even if we have a ten miles lead getting out of Gibraltar, if you look ahead to the 300 miles upwind we still have to go, the Alboran Sea is very wide and so anyone can go anywhere. It is difficult to set a defined strategy, you just need to roll with what happens and take what chances come your way. You need to have some luck.”
Vincent Riou, skipper of PRB (FRA) added: “We were a bit relieved when the wind dropped away finally because the previous 24 hours were a bit fast and hectic. Through the whole of the night since the start almost the boat was completely under water, almost flooded for 20 hours, under tonnes of water. So we were happy to get our gear out to dry, and to have just 10 knots of wind for a while and have a more relaxed.
"Since rounding Cape St Vincent yesterday we have only had very light winds. We knew that was going to happen, very much according to the forecasts.
"We don’t see everyone but we do know that we have a fight on with Movistar and Estrella Damm and us have very little difference between the three of us and it is back and forth, but where Safran is is a bit of a mystery. The mood on board is quite good. We are all well. It will be a long course yet, with only light winds to Calpe.
"I think it is a very nice course. It is nice weather, a good temperature and it is always interesting because the weather changes from one day to the next. One day we had 25-30 knots flat out downwind, and today we have light winds and a flat sea and just moving along gently. The course is interesting, because you need to be able to turn your hand to any kind of sailing and there will be things to do until the end.”
Results At Middle Waypoint (leg 4):
1 Safran, Marc Guillemot, FRA, 07:35:15h (0.5 point)
2 Estrella Damm, P.Ribes / A.Pella, ESP, 08:06:10h (1 point)
3 PRB, Vincent Riou, FRA, 08:26:40h (1.5 point)
4 GAES Centros Auditivos, D.Caffari / A.Corbella, 08:50:12h (2 points)
5 Movistar, I.Martínez/ X.Fernández, ESP, 08:56:20h (2.5 points)
6 W Hotels-Nova Bocana, P.Rivero/ A.Piris, ESP, 09:51:14h (3 points)
7 Central Lechera Asturiana, J.Merediz / F.Palacio, ESP, 12:45:45h (3.5 points)
8 Pakea Bizkaia, J.Mumbrú / C.Sanmarti, ESP, hasn’t crossed the scoring gate yet.
Overall Provisional Standings, Vuelta a España a Vela
Position, Boat, Skippers, Nationality, Total Points (Leg 1, Leg 2, Finisterre, Leg 3, Gibraltar)
1st Safran, Marc Guillemot, FRA, 5 (1+2+0,5+1+0,5)
2nd PRB, Vincent Riou, FRA, 7,5 (2+1+1+2+1,5)
3rd W Hotels-Nova Bocana, P.Rivero/ A.Piris, ESP, 15,5 (4+4+1,5+3+3)
4th Movistar, I.Martínez/ X.Fernández, ESP, 17 (3+3+2,5+6+2,5)
5th Estrella Damm, P.Ribes/ A.Pella, ESP, 17 (5+5+2+4+1)
6th GAES Centros Auditivos, D.Caffari/ A.Corbella, GBR/ESP, 22 (6+6+3+5+2)
7th Central Lechera Asturiana, J.Merediz/ F.Palacio, ESP, 27,5 (7+7+3,5+7+3,5)
8th Pakea Bizkaia, J.Mumbrú/ C.Sanmarti, ESP, hasn’t crossed the scoring gate yet.