Yesterday's gains not enough for Coville
In the Ultimate class, the window of opportunity for Thomas Coville and Sodebo came and went during the latter half of yesterday. As forecast she was first to break into the strong northeasterlies and at the 1930 sched last night her four hour average speed was 24 knots (the same as Coville's singlehanded 24 hour record), but significantly twice that of race leader Franck Cammas on Groupama 3. However by the first sched today, Groupama 3 was back on the pace with both boats averaging speeds in the low 20s. At the latest sched Sodebo has regained second place, but Groupama 3 still has what could prove to be an unsurmountable 289 mile lead. Both boats are now equidistant to the great circle, Sodebo to the north, Groupama 3 to the south, and Cammas has just under 1500 miles left to sail, his ETA into Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe on Monday afternoon.
Weather-wise the high currently centred to the southeast of Newfoundland is forecast to ease unusually northeast out into the Atlantic over the next 24 hours with a depression forming to the west of it. For the Ultimate class boats this will result in an acceleration of the northeasterlies to around 30+ knots over the next day and a half. However their progress is likely to be held up on Sunday when a shallow depression forms directly in their track, just to the northeast of the Caribbean, turning off the wind switch before it fills in again on Monday, unusually from the south. So an upwind home straight with an opportunity for some compression among the leaders.
Behind Groupama 3, Francis Joyon's IDEC and Yann Guichard on Gitana 11 have finally split with Guichard heading south.
"The wind is swinging," reported Joyon yesterday. "There are some squalls, but that's what you get rounding the flank of the anticyclone. They are big black clouds, and when you get under them you slow to three knots. And of course in the dark of night you don't see them at all. And even in the day there are some you can't avoid. I slept a little last night and that re-charged the batteries. Next it would be cool to see the fleet regroup for a final skirmish to the finish!”
Yann Guichard said: “It's going okay. It is a bit of a fight just now. I am a bit stuck just now under the stormy clouds. I have had nothing. It's a bit like that here, these little stormy clouds come from the south, but you can't spot them coming. I am still under one and I kind of hope Francis has had the same, but looking at the rankings I don't thin that's the case. The pilot goes down a bit, so I have to steer from time to time. I have not seen Francis, maybe he is in furtive mode? We have a port tack to make with Francis. Groupama 3 is always quicker and so something would need to happen for us to pass. The battle for us will be with Thomas and Francis. But I will just do my best and we'll see at the finish. But we won't converge just now with Thomas.”
Behind in the Multi50s, over the last 24 hours second placed Yves le Blevec on Actual has managed to regain some 30 miles on leader Franck-Yves Escoffier on Crepes Whaou! 3, and is now down to 78 mile behind. Both boats are currently some 200 miles south of the Azores. They continue to relish the conditions, averaging 15 knots over the last four hours, only two less than Gitana 11 now some 240 miles ahead of them. They are approaching the front and should be through into the favourable northeasterlies tonight.
Escoffier reported yesterday: “It is nice and I have been making some great surfing. I like it sailing alone, but sometimes help would be nice. It is good with two also. I pace myself well, I make sure I rest. The first couple of days were pretty full on, but now I am recharged. But really you don't rest much. It is certainly going well, but I will take every mile I can get. I guess I am pleased to be sixth overall on the water, but I am not going to get too excited about that. For me it is important that there are classes and each winner is recognized, not simply who wins overall, the big names. The downwind stuff will last until two days before we finish, but for the final bit we don't really know yet.” If you're wondering, Escoffier's niece Servane on board her ancient maxi-cat Saint Malo 2015 is currently among the latter group of Multi50s between the Azores and Madeira.
Among the IMOCA 60s Roland Jourdain on Veolia Environnement (the ex-BT) remains the daddy. Jourdain, the IMOCA 60 winner in the 2006 Route du Rhum will no doubt be keeping his fingers crossed as he passes the Azores, close to where last year his boat (then Seb Josse's BT) suffered severe damage to her coachroof, flooding the boat and causing her to be nearly lost. The lead 60s are now through into the northeasterlies and being in the lead has seen Jourdain nose a little further ahead - up to 34 miles ahead of Armel le Cleac'h on BritAir at the latest sched, compared to 13.5 this time yesterday.
“In spite of a small mistake not long after the start I am on top which is great," Jourdain commented yesterday before passing the front. "I'd stay here! So far I have succeeded in one goal. So that is good, it's a small thing ticked off. Life on board is difficult. Veolia 1 was not comfortable, but at least I knew where to hang on to. Here (Veolia 2) I fall flat on my face by the chart table. It's a bit sadomasochistic! From the outside it looks great, but inside you could not say the same, you cannot sleep because it slams so much, and when you want to do something outside you almost need to stop the boat! But that's the way it is! We have between 12 and 15 knots of wind, working into a seaway, not very big but choppy and so it is slamming. But it could be worse! And we are slowly getting to the depression.”
This group of 60s is now into wholly different conditions with a brisk 30+ knots from the northeast, allowing them to push their boats to the max. Veolia has averaged 20 knots over the last four hours - more than Groupama 3! However in these big conditions it will be interesting to see if we can spot any difference in the performance between the boats with curved daggerboards - Safran, PRB, Virbac - and those which do not - Veolia, Groupe Bel, DCNS.
Meanwhile to the south Arnaud Boissieres on Akena Verandas and Michel Desjoyeaux on Foncia are set to pass the Azores to the south. They are struggling in lighter southeasterlies and are still at least a day away from breaking into the northeasterlies the leaders are currently enjoying.
Yesterday Desjoyeaux lamented: “This is not a good place to be. I lost a lot of time going around the high pressure - more than I thought, and now in front it does not want to open up. It is complicated. For those up on the north it will happen, that is now for sure.” At the latest schedule Foncia was in an uncharacteristic last place some 200 miles off the lead.
While the south has worked in the Ultimate class, but not the IMOCA 60s, it appears it might do in the long term at least for the Class 40s as by Sunday the high will continue to move east and by Monday will be in the centre of the North Atlantic, but the scenario is not that conventional. Come early next week the high will be back in situ over the Azores but will be compressed by substantial depressions over Europe (France) and the eastern seaboard of the USA. The long term forecast has the depression off the USA winning out shoving the high east on the one hand pushing the trades a long way south but creating a strong band of southwesterly headwinds for the Class 40s to the north: the between a rock and a hard place scenario we saw last year in the Solidaire du Chocolat.
Back to the last 24 hours and the lead group of 40s has continued to forge west towards the front and favourable northeasterlies behind, with Thomas Ruyant on Destinations Dunkerque still ahead, now 18.5 miles in front of second placed Sam Manuard on his self-designed Vecteur Plus. While Ruyant is leading the southerly group of westbound boats, including Vecteur Plus and third and fourth placed Yvan Noblet on Appart City (formerly Giovanni Soldini's Telecom Italia) and Jorg Riechers on mare.de, New Zealander Conrad Colman on 40 Degrees is doing well, up to 12th place leading the northerly group. With the front still on a SW-NE axis, these 40s, sailing on a west-bound course to the north of the leading 60s, should be hooking into the northeasterlies over the course of today allowing them to hoist kites and blast off towards Guadeloupe.
Meanwhile the Class 40s to the south are keeping their fingers crossed. They continue to be led by Nicolas Troussel on Credit Mutuel de Bretagne with Pete Goss on DMS 40 miles behind. As an indication that the west or south choices have been more even in the Class 40s Troussel is 90 miles behind Thomas Ruyant in terms of DTF, about the same as Conrad Colman. Unfortunately for the next 48 hours the boats to the south will suffer compared to those to the west until the northeasterlies even up over the race track on Sunday. Come Monday the south will be the place to be.
Yesterday Pete Goss reported: "Make no mistake the race could be unfolding as I type this for the split in the fleet is starting to pan out. Yesterday afternoon I gave it all in an effort to tickle under the high without being trapped – a poacher would have been proud of me and it was a great relief to see the wind veer and fill in.
"The second half of the night was a bit easier as I had got to know the boat better on this point of sail and my confidence in the pilot grows. The wind also eased slightly so I managed to get about three hours sleep in with a look on deck every half hour. Just before dawn I put a gybe in and it went like clockwork – another little milestone in our relationship. She's a lovely boat.
"With the gybe behind me and dawn lighting the sky I had a quiet hot chocolate and moment of reflection for a very good friend who has just lost his father. Always a tough time and my heart goes out to him and his family. Feeling better all round I gave the galley a good clean and had a hearty bag of porridge with raisins. The first flying fish popped up to say hello and it struck me that the pace of the last four days has been pretty brutal and I am glad to have come through the better for it. I haven't taken my Musto wet weather gear off since the start but I can sense the temperature rising and look forward to my first shower on deck.”