Another victory for Safran
As they have done on three other previous stages, Safran won the fifth leg of the Vuelta España a Vela this morning at 08:53:52hrs when they ghosted across the finish line in a slowly fading breeze on the Bay of Palma.
The triumph for Marc Guillemot, Charles Caudrelier Benac and the Safran crew was once again the product of their excellent strategy, tactics and good all-round boat speed. They timed their lay-line tack to make their entrance to the Bay of Palma to near perfection, holding on a little longer than their nearest rivals PRB, who finished second just over 26 minutes behind them.
It was not all plain sailing for the Safran crew. Immediately after they had overhauled early leader PRB off Formentera they had to slow to remove a plastic sheet which was snared around their daggerboard, dropping their boatspeed by three knots for a period while they tried to remove it. They stopped, raised the board and went from a slender lead to being a mile and a half behind PRB again.
But Safran fought back on a mainly upwind leg. The fleet saw breezes of up to 25 knots as they left the east extremity of Formentera, to barely a handful of knots of morning breeze as they glided gently across the near glassy waters of Palma Bay.
"It was a very special leg, right from the start," commented Marc Guillemot. "Just before the start the wind came back from the opposite side, so we were all in trouble and we almost bumped into the other boats on the start line. The wind kept turning all the time. We sailed well after that. We passed PRB and the wind came back at Formentera and they were right beside us. We expected 10 knots of wind and got 25 knots and passed PRB then something rolled around our daggerboard and in ten minutes instead of being in front we found ourselves one and a half miles behind. We really had something significant around it.
"The approach here was the easiest thing that we had. We thought it would be the most difficult part of the leg, to get near to Palma but in fact it was easiest. Only the last 500 metres were a bit light.
"It was very interesting from a tactical point of view. Yesterday PRB was the first to tack, we hesitated and thought he was a bit too early. So we though ‘let’s wait’ and after a while we thought maybe we had made a mistake. But then we saw that he had made the mistake. So it is never easy. Sailing is a sport where there is a lot of uncertainty. It is never certain."
Safran’s win gives them a margin which is all but untouchable, while Vincent Riou arrived in second place for the third time, wondering what more he and his crew have to do to beat their French rivals.
PRB led out of Calpe and during the early section of the race but hit a calm zone off Formentera and, later in the night, they were ahead, but tacked away earlier than Safran and that was all that was in it in the end.
"The key to this leg? If I had ever found it, maybe we would have won. We fought hard but it is sometimes not enough," said Vincent Riou. "We were ahead for a while until the wind dropped. But I have to say it is not very much fun to finish second every time. We'll try to change it for the last stage. As we were getting to the finish it looked all the time like the wind was dropping and so we had to push really hard, and so we figured we only had minutes to get across the line before the breeze died away for hours.”
There was considerable delight for Pachi Rivero who gave his Palma-based family and friends extra reason to cheer on his arrival in his home port, when he and the W Hotels-Nova Bocana crew took third place, just six minutes and 11 seconds behind PRB.
Rivero commented: "I am very happy with the welcome here in Palma with my wife, kids and friends. And we have finished third which keeps us in the battle for third overall with Estrella Damm. Before we broke the Code Zero we were hanging in with the two leading boats, but when the fleet regrouped under the lee of Formentera we got back in with the lead group. I can’t say if we will finish the race overall in third, but we will try our hardest and we are very proud of how we fought. We broke the Code Zero for the second time. The problem is that the sail is broken and we had to use the A3 or the masthead. That happened just before Formentera when we really needed it. Formentera the wind reached 27 knots. The navigator made a very nice course on the upwind, along with Movistar and Estrella Damm. We tried to catch PRB. With the masthead we lost a lot. We were second and then lost two places. I think it was not so good. For the finish we tried to be in a position to control Movistar and Estrella Damm. So we are very happy.”
W Hotels-Nova Bocana posted their best result of the race, but it was also hard for Rivero and his co-skipper Antonio Piris not to consider if they might have finished higher up the leg ranking had they not damaged their powerful Code Zero headsail on the long leg from Calpe through the lee of Formentera.
But W Hotels-Nova Bocana’s third, the best result yet for them during this race, sets up their tantalising challenge for third overall, going into the final leg just one half a point behind Estrella Damm.
Iker Martinez, Xabi Fernandez and Michel Desjoyeaux on Movistar took fourth place, a minute and a half ahead of Estrella Damm.
Xabi Fernández said: “When we were off Formentera the race began again. From there it was a very long upwind to Palma, starting off in 25 knots but it died away gradually. We chose to stay closer to the east to have a little leverage to windward. After a while there was a left shift and we gained nicely against the leaders but the breeze went back and we were in a tight pack and there was not much more that we could have done.”
Martinez added: “ It did not happen as well as we wanted it to. We went more east because there was more pressure and we were very good. Safran got away. PRB and W Hotels were to leeward and square to us for the last 40 miles and then a big shift came from 60 to 220 degrees and we all had to tack again and suddenly we were all on the opposite side, we were to leeward and waiting, waiting, waiting but it did not come back again. So that was something we did not expect to happen. And then we were close and we thought maybe we would get another chance near the end, but it did not happen. That was part of the reason we went so far to the east because we thought the breeze would die at six or seven and we would be best there, but it did not happen. I think the key was the tack after Formentera. Safran and ourselves were going east and it was when to tack, before and after that it was just straight line speed.”
Navigator on Estrella Damm, Simon Fisher, gave his take: “It was a tough race actually, a real mixed bag. We never really got an opportunity to get a jump on the fleet and so most of the time you were just working to get round people. We got out to the right and tacked under Movistar, but there were just a little bit quicker and just lifted away from us. We did not do so well coming out of the start and that made the job a little bit harder. Across to Formentera it was give and take, some small gains and small losses depending where we were relative to the fleet. We struggled a bit, not quite low enough at the first headland at Formentera, but at the next headland we gained a bit back. Then after that it was really a race to the right. We made the run out to the right, and got to the right but fell back into the fleet. It was a bit of a drag race into the line but we were getting just a little bit headed coming into the bay which did not make it any easier for us, but we finished just a minute behind Movistar. We did not quite pull it off.”
The battle royal between Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella’s GAES Centros Auditivos and Central Lechera Asturiana of Juan Merediz and Fran Palacio, went almost to the Palma finish line. The GAES Centros Auditivos crew were compromised when the breeze was up when their main primary winch exploded, rendering it un-usable.
Anna Corbella explained: “We sailed very well on the approach to Formentera because we were sailing a little lower and faster, further off the island and so we did not suffer as much from the lee. When the strong winds arrived the primary winch exploded. I have never seen anything like it in my life. It screwed up our capacity to sail fast and then as well our ability to sail to the strategy we wanted. We could not tack when we wanted and we could not trim the sails until the wind dropped. It cost us a lot. Then we were away far away from the leading group. We decided on a bit of risky strategy, a bit of all or nothing, and it did not really pay off. But at least we recovered sixth place just before the finish!”
Central Lechera Asturiana’s bold strategy to the west looked for a long time to have kept Merediz and Palacio in the hunt for a place in the top half of the fleet, but the breeze died away for them in the early hours, and GAES Centros Auditivos stole away their moment of glory. ‘For a while we had touched heaven, but we ended up back in the hell of seventh, again’ joked Merediz after finishing.
Arrivals time Leg 5 Calpe-Palma
1st Safran, Marc Guillemot (FRA), at 08:53:52 hrs
2nd PRB, Vincent Riou (FRA), at 09:19:59 hrs
3rd W Hotels-Nova Bocana, Pachi Rivero (ESP)/Toño Piris (ESP), at 09:26:10 hrs
4th Movistar, Iker Martínez(ESP)/Xabi Fernández(ESP) at 09:35:38 hrs
5th Estrella Damm, Pepe Ribes (ESP)/Alex Pella(ESP) at 09:37:16 hrs
6th GAES Centros Auditivos, D.Caffari (GBR)/A.Corbella (ESP) at 11:36:02 hrs
7th Central Lechera Asturiana, J.Merediz (ESP)/F.Palacio (ESP) at 11:46:33 hrs
8th Pakea-Bizkaia, J.Mumbrú (ESP)/C.Sanmartí (ESP) at 13:57:52 hrs
Overall Standings Vuelta a España a Vela
1st Safran, Marc Guillemot, FRA, 8 (1+2+0,5+1+0,5+2+1)
2nd PRB, Vincent Riou, FRA, 15,5 (2+1+1+2+1,5+6+2)
3rd Estrella Damm, P.Ribes/ A.Pella, ESP, 26 (5+5+2+4+1+4+5)
4th W Hotels-Nova Bocana, P.Rivero/ A.Piris, ESP, 26.5 (4+4+1,5+3+3+8+3)
5th Movistar, I.Martínez/ X.Fernández, ESP, 31 (3+3+2,5+6+2,5+10+4)
6th GAES Centros Auditivos, D.Caffari/ A.Corbella, GBR/ESP, 40 (6+6+3+5+2+12+6)
7th Central Lechera Asturiana, J.Merediz/ F.Palacio, ESP, 49 (7+7+3,5+7+3,5+14+7)
8th Pakea Bizkaia, J.Mumbrú/ C.Sanmarti, ESP, 56 (8+8+4+8+4+16+8)