Safran first into Calpe
Marc Guillemot, Charles Caudrelier and the crew of Safran completed their third win of the four legs so far of the Vuelta España a Vela when they broke the finish line off Calpe at 05h 08m 13s this morning to complete the 880 miles passage from Sanxenxo.
Safran also collected the best points for leading at the Middle Waypoint gate, to extend their overall lead in the race to 6.5 points with just two legs remaining: Calpe to Palma which starts on Sunday and the final leg from Palma to the finish in Barcelona.
Since leaving Sanxenxo the overall race leaders were only temporarily overhauled a couple of times, in the fast very fast running off Lisbon and while setting up for the points scoring waypoint at the entrance to the Mediterranean, but their strategy which enabled them to stay under spinnakers for as long as possible, allowed them to be first in to the mark and first to emerge from the tightly formed cluster into the building Easterly Levante breeze.
But from the Straits of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean Safran extended when they could and then kept a cover on the tightly matched chasing pack. When they crossed the finish line before dawn, to the continuous cacophony of seabirds which wheel around the jagged, towering Peñon de Ifach rock the call home, Safran had more than 25 miles of margin over an unruly scrap for second place.
Safran skipper Marc Guillemot commented: “Our strategy at Gibraltar we really just tried to keep the boat moving all the time. After Cape St Vincent we went a big south and then when we got to the light winds that meant we were sailing under spinnaker, and always managed to have a spinnaker and for sure that was a good thing. There was only a moment after passing the buoy that we saw all the others coming back at us, then we saw PRB, W Hotels, Movistar, all of them coming back at us, they were less than a mile from us, all of them.
"But we passed the gate and stuck to the course, when we looked behind there was no one behind us. They had all disappeared. We were not going so fast, maybe seven knots, but after maybe a couple of hours we were 14 miles in front again.”
"It was not easy. At the gate we really thought that everything which we had worked hard to gain since Cape St Vincent was going to be lost, because everyone was within a radius of 1.5 miles, something like that, and it was really difficult to see what would happen.”
“Our team is interesting because everyone is very autonomous and good at their jobs but we come together in a very cohesive unit. We make the most of individuality and indivual skills but it is very cohesive. We are a bit like the football team…….in 1998!”
Local hero Pepe Ribes, veteran of two round-the-world races and the America’s Cup, knows how to make an entrance to his home port, even if it was a little early for some. Along with co-skipper Alex Pella and their Estrella Damm team they played out the perfect finish when they only just kept the French Vendée Globe winner Vincent Riou and his brand new PRB at bay.
The two boats lined up for a one and a half miles duel to the finish line, which was set just off Ribes’ home yacht club, in front of the boat yard where he worked and learned to sail a wooden Optimist as a youngster.
When the wind puffed and swirled off the towering Ifach rock, Estrella Damm was able to respond to a big heading shift and plant themselves in front of PRB. From there the Spanish team were able to win the match race photo finish.
Having left Sanxenxo on Sunday at 1205, after 880 miles, only an eyeblink 18 seconds separated them from third placed PRB, to the delight of Ribes’ family and friends who turned out to cheer them across the line. Estrella Damm crossed the line at 08hrs 19mins and 31secs.
Ribers commented: “It was good, I think we sailed as good as we can I think. It has been very hard to defend upwind, because upwind we have a lack of speed normally and so I think the strategy from Olivier was always the best one, to always look for the best wind pressure, really telling us not look at the other guys but to always go for the best pressure. That is the only way to stay with them upwind. If we try to match them they simply go half a knot higher and five degrees higher. If we went them we would have been ten miles behind.
We cannot live with the new boats. We just have to do our own thing.
"I think it is very important for us to get a result. We did not sail very well at all in the Cantabric. I made a lot of mistakes there and I really feel like we need to finish on the podium on a leg to prove to the guys that we can stay at the front. But it has been very hard for us. We are in Calpe having raced something like 1200 miles and 800 of them have been upwind, which is not so good for our boat.
"As soon as we were downwind, from Cape Finisterre we were able to pass boats. But we have not had those conditions very much. We are very happy with the boat downwind. We were really happy but full VMG upwind it is hard. It was perfect to come into Calpe second. First would have been nice, but Safran are just always in the right place at the right time, and have a very fast boat. But Olivier did a very good job.”
The final night and early morning was to prove punishing for those who had strayed or chosen the inshore line. Late last night their position looked strong and W Hotels-Nova Bocana was computed to be second at one point, but when their offshore rivals lifted away early this morning in better pressure they lost the breeze– as did Movistar. Pachi Rivero and Antonio Piris took fourth place at 9hrs 52 mins 44 secs with Movistar fifth at 11hrs 28mins 50seconds
Early afternoon it was the turn of Dee Caffari, Anna Corbella and the crew of GAES Centros Auditivos to cross the finish line, taking sixth. “We are reasonably happy to have been there in the mix, but need to do better towards the end of the stages. I felt like we were doing the right thing at the right time. And certainly after over 800 miles of sailing, it is good to be coming in just a few hours apart,” concluded Caffari.
The longest leg of the race proved a comprehensive all round test including over 400 miles of flat out downwind sailing down the Portuguese coast, a slow tactical passage through the Straits of Gibraltar and a testing beat up the Spanish coast in winds which topped 25 knots with big seas.
Finish times, Leg 4 from Sanxenxo to Calpe
1. Safran, 05h 08m 13s
2. Estrella Damm, 08h 19m 31s
3. PRB, 08h 19m 49 s
4. W Hotels-Nova Bocana, 09h 52m 44s
5. Movistar, 11h 28m 50s
6. GAES Centros Auditivos, 12h 57m 36s
Central Lechera Asturiana and Pakea Bizkaia still to finish
Overall Standings Vuelta a España a Vela
Place, Boat, Skippers, Nationality, Total points. (Leg 1+ Leg 2 + Cape Finsterre + Leg 3 + Gibraltar + Leg 4)
1. Safran, Marc Guillemot, FRA, 7 (1+2+0,5+1+0,5+2)
2. PRB, Vincent Riou, FRA, 13,5 (2+1+1+2+1,5+6)
3. W Hotels-Nova Bocana, P.Rivero/ A.Piris, ESP, 23,5 (4+4+1,5+3+3+8)
4. Movistar, I.Martínez/ X.Fernández, ESP, 27 (3+3+2,5+6+2,5+10)
5. Estrella Damm, P.Ribes/ A.Pella, ESP, 21 (5+5+2+4+1+4)
6. GAES Centros Auditivos, D.Caffari/ A.Corbella, GBR/ESP, 34 (6+6+3+5+2+12)
7. Central Lechera Asturiana, J.Merediz/ F.Palacio, ESP, 42* (7+7+3,5+7+3,5+14*)
8. Pakea Bizkaia, J.Mumbrú/ C.Sanmarti, ESP, 48* (8+8+4+8+4+16*)
*Still to finish Leg 4