PRB leads out of Calpe
In very light and fluky winds Vincent Riou, Jean Le Cam and the crew of PRB led the IMOCA Open 60 fleet out of Calpe to start Leg 5, the penultimate stage of the Vuelta España a Vela.
A short opening circuit across the bay proved nail-bitingly challenging, not for high octane entertainment but for the way that the flighty breeze proved so hard to read, and even harder to use to best effect.
Rather than a traditional windward-leeward circuit, from a downwind start it was PRB which managed to use the best angles, slightly offshore, to carry the strongest breeze down the track and make a tidy leeward mark rounding. That was enough for the French crew to hold on up the one-tack beat up to the final turning buoy before Palma.
The mark sat ringed by a calm zone. PRB ghosted into it and slowed, caught by Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez’s Movistar. Then Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella charged up, threatening to go round the outside with GAES Centros Auditivos.
But while these Sunday lunchtime preliminaries are likely to be a mere aperitif, probably counting for little on the 140 miles passage to Palma, such are the predictions of several stops along the route as the winds die overnight that it may just have set the tone for the leg . During the first section of the leg there is expected to be a trade off to be struck between gaining more wind pressure the further south the teams are prepared to sail, against a better initial angle available to the north, but with less wind strength.
Winds are expected to be very light from the ENE after Formentera.
Overall race leaders Safran, of Marc Guillemot and Charles Caudrelier Benac, had given themselves a little work to do in catching their compatriots, struggling up to the turn, while the biggest cheer of the starting loop was for the popular team on Pakea Bizkaia which reached the turning mark in third.
Guillemot was guarded in his comments before the start. Clearly relaxed, at ease and having enjoyed the Calpe stop, he warned that rather than having already won the overall race they still had a job to do on this leg, and they had to focus on making sure they did not get sidetracked on a stage which might simply be decided on the final five or six hours approaching Palma Bay.
Thunder clouds were threatening Calpe through the morning, with distant rumbles a reminder of the forecast of small pockets of stormy weather arriving from the east. How these are managed will be crucial, as will be when to tack on to starboard for the approach to Palma. The course requires Ibiza and Formentera to be left to port, but in fact if the breeze is more easterly then the possible effects of the islands will be less of a consideration and if it is more northerly then the wind shadow extending to the lee of the island during tonight could be important.
Safran’s lead is increasingly secure and while there is much talk among the teams of learning for future races, without doubt there are many crews who really want to post a leg win on the board before they reach Barcelona on Thursday. Iker Martinez confirmed that they had perhaps sat back a little on the last, long leg and waited for input from Le Professeur – double Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux – but both are categoric that the way forwards is for the Spanish Olympic medallists to sail their own race and Desjoyeaux to provide feedback afterwards.
Prior to the start skippers and crews gave their comments:
Marc Guillemot co-skipper Safran (FRA): “This is the sun lotion leg. But it is a stage where you need to stay focused, one where things can change quickly. In our heads we have not won yet. Sure, the race could be finished for us in Palma, but we are not thinking about that at all. We are not thinking that the race is won, we are thinking that it is not won. The weather will be light at the start and extra light at the finish. What is the most likely biggest influence on the race is at what time we’ll arrive to Palma, whether the sea breeze is established or not”.
Vincent Riou co-skipper PRB (FRA): “Obviously it would be good to have better weather files than Marco (Guillemot). It could be quite quick to start with, with some tricky storms this evening. The biggest risks are near the end of the course, at the finish into Palma. For this leg we are taking on board Maxime Paul who is an excellent helm and tactician. Speed is very important on this leg. We will sail the leg as we see it, we are out to win the leg and not to try and protect against those who are behind us. And so we will attack all that we can. But we need to stay vigilant and keep an eye on the fleet. Here it would be easy to be last because you go to play alone in a corner.”
Simon Fisher (GBR) navigator Estrella Damm (ESP): “It will be quite tricky. There is a weather of information, you can look at four or five different models and they all say slightly different things. There are a lot of local effects on this leg to deal with. You have to deal with the sea breeze and so we will be on the wind as we leave here. Then the wind will be more northerly and between here and Ibiza we have to think about most of the gradient, there will be a big band of rain coming to us. In each of the different models that arrives at different times. If we have northerly winds and can stay to the north in clean winds then that’s the ideal situation. But if it comes earlier and comes across the course, then we might have to deal with it and it can be a little bit squally and shifty, managing the clouds properly and staying on the good side of them.
Beyond Ibiza, going past tonight, it will be interesting because potentially we will be passing to leeward at night, and the later we pass the more careful we will have to be about wind shadows.
Then we will get headed as we go more east, and that will give us the shift to tack to approach Palma. It would nice to be on the right side of the others and lead into that shift, and then tack up on the good side.
From there on, approaching Palma it is thinking about sea breezes and land breezes, depending on the time of day. We should get there for the afternoon and so the sea breeze should be quite well established and with the NE’ly gradient that is quite good for the Palma sea breeze. I think you will see us creeping up the right hand side of the bay, where there is probably better pressure.”
Pepe Ribes co-skipper Estrella Damm (ESP): “I think everyone knows this leg well, and especially having to leave Ibiza and Formentera to port that does not leave you with very much options. You have that as a fixed point there and it could be one tack and that’s it. It is a shame that it is not more open, that would make it more tactical. The only stop-start would be arriving in Palma at night when you would have to wait for the Embat, the sea breeze to arrive.
The pressure for us is just the same as before. We need to sail well, to enjoy it and that’s it. For me the last leg took some pressure off and we did well and here we are. There is more pressure for the others if they want to be second.”
Iker Martinez co-skipper Movistar (ESP): “Looks light and upwind but that is the forecast. If the wind is a little bit more right then there will be less of a problem with Formentera but if it is a little more left then we will probably go close. I have never been there, maybe once during training for the Volvo during the night. So this can be an important point, but the most difficult thing is when to tack and where to tack for Palma.
Arriving during the night to Palma would be difficult, especially with no gradient wind there. Everything could be decided there. After working for 20 hours you can arrive there and the race will be decided in the last 10 or 5 miles. Yesterday it looked horrible, but today it is not so horrible for the arrival.
For sure we can still win a leg if we do things properly. Why not?
We were not too disappointed from the last leg. The results probably don’t show how happy we are, because we explained that is not a race that we prepared to try and win. So we don’t have new sails. We know where we are, we are here to learn about the boat and to learn about ourselves, and the most important thing we learned was how good we were down the coast of Portugal, in the strong winds. That was the most interesting because we did not have much time and that was what we had been training and where we could have problems in the round the world race. So we found ourselves pretty comfortable with the boat.
The truth is that last time we did not do very well because we were probably thinking Michel was coming and he would manage almost everything, and he was probably thinking exactly the opposite I am coming but you are going to do the work and I teach you. So we probably did a bit of both. We did not do the job properly.
Michel is here to teach us and obviously what he wants is not him doing the job. So we will be working and he will be teaching us what we can improve. And that is the main goal of this race, to learn. Michel is very clever on this and on how to get prepared. Obviously with the experience he has, he would like to take his own boat and do his own job, to do everything and try to win the race. But that is not the goal, the goal is to try to teach us. So that is what we are going to try.”
Pachi Rivero, co-skipper W Hotels Nova Bocana: “ We are looking at NNE’ly breeze and from here to Formentera it should be an easy race, just one tack, port tack to Formentera tonight. Then the channel between Ibiza and Mallorca the weather does not look like a big breeze. And then after there will be another race to get inside the bay in Palma. There, I don’t know what will happen, it is very tricky. The two difficult points are the east cape at Formentera and Cape Mola. Normally there will be some breeze NNE, 15-20kts to Formentera and then light, light breeze maybe 5-7 knots to Palma.
We are happy with this boat in this breeze. This could be our best leg. The boat is good. We try to push as hard as possible.”
Anna Corbella, co-skipper GAES Centros Auditivos: “This will be a tricky leg which could be decided on the entry to Palma Bay, whether you choose to come in from Cabo Blanco or Punta Figuera”
Overall Standings Vuelta a España a Vela
1st Safran, Marc Guillemot, FRA, 7 (1+2+0,5+1+0,5+2)
2nd PRB, Vincent Riou, FRA, 13,5 (2+1+1+2+1,5+6)
3rd Estrella Damm, P.Ribes/ A.Pella, ESP, 21 (5+5+2+4+1+4)
4th W Hotels-Nova Bocana, P.Rivero/ A.Piris, ESP, 23,5 (4+4+1,5+3+3+8)
5th Movistar, I.Martínez/ X.Fernández, ESP, 27 (3+3+2,5+6+2,5+10)
6th GAES Centros Auditivos, D.Caffari/ A.Corbella, GBR/ESP, 34 (6+6+3+5+2+12)
7th Central Lechera Asturiana, J.Merediz/ F.Palacio, ESP, 42 (7+7+3,5+7+3,5+14)
8th Pakea Bizkaia, J.Mumbrú/ C.Sanmarti, ESP, 48 (8+8+4+8+4+16)