Home tomorrow morning
Light winds to the north of the Caribbean have kicked back the ETA of the Ultimate class frontrunners into Guadeloupe. At the latest sched race leader Franck Cammas' Groupama 3 had 281 miles to go but his average speed for the last 24 hours has been a relatively leisurely (by 105ft trimaran standards) 12 knots shoving his arrival into Pointe a Pitre back to 0600 on Tuesday morning.
Yesterday Cammas said: "It has been going well, but I don't seem to have stopped gybing. We are going to get a position in the west and see what happens, because the wind is very weak.
"To gybe it takes 12 minutes, because it takes a long time to get the gennaker round. It goes a long way out and it takes a long time to get it sheeted back in. You have to find the right technique and timing, but it just takes time.
"The final 24 hours look to be the most complicated of the race. The winds are changing, with rain showers and no wind. I will have to use most of the sails. And the coast is not far away, so it will be tricky and demanding.
"I have been trying to re-charge myself, my own ‘batteries'. I am not too stressed for the finish. I would rather have finished in normal conditions, the usual weather. I am watching Thomas because he has the same course as me, but it is not worth wondering too much, and asking too many questions. I will concentrate on our course. My position is good but I do have a no wind zone in front of me. There will be a few. Then I have to manage this big boat with all these transitions we will have during tonight and tomorrow morning. But the wind will be steady. It is diffcult to try to control simply becauase if you stop then the other can be catching at up to 20 knots, and the distance to me drops quickly. But I am ready for everything. I am going to have to put up the smaller sails for the windier stuff and could see 30 knots, but I am also worried about the light stuff and stopping. It will be good to be stopped though, I am looking forward to resting. My arms have almost doubled in size. I am eating well. I just am a bit sleep deprived. I have not used my legs a lot. But I had to change a sail so I used the bike.
"I have been feeling nice and calm, at one with the boat. With these kind of conditions I could have capsized on the 60 footer, but I have been able to keep the sails up. I could keep high average speeds. I had a lot of things to do with this complicated weather, working well with the weather routers. When you are at the front of the fleet, there is never any time to rest. You just keep sailing like it is the first day of the race right to the finish, and if I finish well that will be good. But just now I try not to change my habits.
"I have not won already. It is good experience for Groupama 3, after the Jules Verne this has been the right race for this boat. I was in the game all the time, and this will be a great memory, even though the next bit is complicated. The weather routers do a special job, considering they are not on board. The decisions we made at the beginning, the north or the south, they looked the same at the beginning with the routing. But in our case the choice was influenced by our boat - trying to keep it simple and easy for the boat. Charles (Caudrelier) and Jean Luc (Nélias) are both navigators and they know very well this kind of game and the decisions. Even though you lose time in the manouevres, sometimes there was some negotiation, but we speak the same language and they understand the situation very well. The first 24 hours we managed very well. We anticipated the decision and took them at the right moment. In the Bay of Biscay the way I learned and handled the boat really gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the race."
While prospects are looking good for Cammas, an interesting battle is raging for second place between Thomas Coville on Sodebo and archrival Francis Joyon on IDEC, respectively 278 and 334 back from Groupama 3 in terms of DTF. IDEC (and behind Yann Guichard on Gitana 11) is approaching Guadeloupe from the east while Sodebo is coming in from the north. With the wind forecast to remain in the south, Sodebo will be upwind, while IDEC is still reaching in southeasterlies, with the wind due to veer south on the approach to the finish. Over the last 24 hours Sodebo has covered just 247 miles compared to IDEC's 342 and the ETAs for the two boats has IDEC coming out on top...
Yesterday Coville commented: “The wind is not dropping, but it will soon and it will be the same for everyone. It was a complicated night. The wind was different during the night, it seemed to do what it wanted and try to eat you at times. But I managed. It is rare to be able to get out of a rain shower. The Last 24 hours will be a conundrum, I won't tell you what I think will happen because I certainly don't want Franck to hear what I think might happen. I ‘ll keep that to myself. I will be a tough, dangerous. That is my fighting insitinct, I have had that since the beginning. The situation offers a chance, and I will be playing hard ball. I set the bar high for myself, but at the level I can manage. I gained more than 150 miles on him in three days with similar conditions, so globally I was a bit faster. I can't make any mistakes because youp ay dearly. In multihulls it is easy to make a big mistake but so far, so good. It is very satisfying to see that the more you do in the race, the more you get better and push the boat, and each time you do things better. I am in the contest.
"I really take some pleasure in the routing. The north option was complex for sure, it was demanding and I thought it would pay off, but Franck managed to get to the right place in the south by the right time. He is a tough competitor, and has been every day for the last three years.
"Francis is always going very, very fast. On average. If you are close to Francis you know that you are in a good position. I have a film in my head of the geographical schemata, these are the rain showers and clouds, and that is important for the coming hours.
"I knew about Groupama, and I knew that on a big crossing like this she would be a fatal weapon. It is the most optimised refined in terms of these multihulls, so powerful and wide with little chance of capsizing. It is very safe in these conditions. Franck has clearly grown in confidence with the boat and clearly choosing the southerly routing to do do less manouvres, the route, the platform, the way he has done it seems to have worked.”
The last 24 hours has seen the Multi50s devasted. Franck-Yves Escoffier has snapped the sacrificial bow off on Crepes Whaou! 3 but more serious is the beam failure on second placed Yves le Blevec's Actual. Escoffier looks set to continue gingerly towards Guadeloupe. His position hasn't been logged since yesterday morning when he was 100 miles ahead of le Blevec. Meanwhile the 2007 Mini Transat winner on Actual is preparing himself in case he needs to abandon his boat. More here.
Among the IMOCA 60s the leaders are still making good progress in the 15-20 knots SSEerly breeze all the boats on a southwesterly course. Roland Jourdain on Veolia Environnement continues to lead but after he dived south, Armel le Cleac'h on BritAir is back up to second place now just 47 miles astern, 180 miles to the southeast of Veolia. BritAir has covered the most miles in the last 24 hours but at the latest sched the average speed over the last four hours showed BritAir sailing a knot faster than Veolia and Marc Guillemot's Transat Jacques Vabre winner Safran, in fourth place, a knot faster than BritAir.
The IMOCA 60s look set to go through their next transition in the weather today as they cross a small ridge before the wind fills in again from the SSE. However the skippers are watching the shallow depression that by tomorrow morning will be to the north of the Caribbean. Over the course of tomorrow this shifts NNE leaving a front behind and the 60s will be looking to break through this front enabling them to get south on the favourable northwesterlies behind it. At present it is unclearly whether BritAir's position to the south or Veolia's to the north will pay in the long term.
Yesterday Roland Jourdain commented: "We can't complain, but the conditions are a little bit demanding, there is plenty of wind and the seas are quite rough. It is not so nice, I am pretty wet, not shaved so not pretty to look at me at the moment. Not a great picture of a sportsman, but hopefully there is no webcam.
"I need to manoeuvre a lot, all the sails have been up and down a lot since yesterday. Now I'm on the solent with two reefs in the main. Yesterday I had to gybe during the night and the sea was very rough. We need to make sure we don't miss this lane (weather corridor). It has been hard to make the boat go fast and I have been outside a lot, I had too much sail up for the wind and had some great, sustained surfs it was great. The boat was landing flat but I really enjoyed it. I don't know how to keep up steering, I just trim the sails and do the tactics and check the boat, the boat is steered better in these conditions than I can do. The boat is well balanced so I can keep the pilot on.
"According the organisers I have been doing 29 knots, but for the police lets say 26. The times when we are going fast are not the worst moments, but he worst are in between, during the manoeuvres because if you make a mistake you can easily lose all the ground you have worked hard to win.
"Since the Figaro I have always called by pilot Albert. That must be something to do with my childhood, so maybe we need to talk to my analyst.
"I obviously look at Armel's position and am not sure why he has done what he has done, yesterday he wanted to change course to set up for the no-wind zone. But the weather does look messy for the finish. I am trying to stay up as much as I can, looking forward and at my strategy rather than looking in the mirror.”
On board Safran, Marc Guillemot reports that he has lost two winch handles lost overboard:
“I have been under spinnaker since yesterday morning, in spite of gusts reaching 38 knots. Safran even hit a peak speed of 29.5 knots! I haven’t spent a single moment at the helm. During the night, the wind eased off slightly and I managed to grab some sleep. But after midnight, the wind got up again and it was difficult for the autopilot to keep up with the seas hitting us more and more on the beam. It got up again to around 33 knots and I was inside eating, when the boat suddenly bore away. I managed to get her back under control, gybed again to free the spinnaker, which had got wrapped around the stay, but I lost two winch handles overboard… I set off again for two hours under spinnaker, but things were getting increasingly hairy. I brought down the sail and it was quite a job getting it into the sock, as it had wrapped itself around the stay… But I managed that and now I’m under staysail with two reefs in the mainsail. The wind has started to veer south-easterly, so I’ve got the wind on the beam between 16 and 13 knots. I’m going to try to take advantage of these stable conditions to eat and get some sleep.
“In fact, my rivals were not all on the same route, as it depends very much on what sail you are using. If you’re under genoa or gennaker, you sail closer to the wind and if you are under spinnaker you tend to sail further westwards. But I’m not sure that the group is really splitting into two. We’ll have to wait and see, if any real options are being taken here. In the next 24 hours, we should stay with the wind on the beam, then we can dive down towards the French West Indies. The final stretch of the race looks fairly open. The light conditions that are in place over the islands will complicate matters. I’m taking advantage of the situation this Sunday to rest and try to think about what lies ahead…”
And what of the boats to the south? Following our query yesterday Michel Desjoyeaux has turned a hard left and has dived down to the south crossing the wake of Arnaud Boissieres' Akena Verandas, both boats now finally making similar speeds to the leaders to the northwest. The only issue with the southbound route is that while the latest forecast has the winds being from a favourable direction, with the Azores high shifting back into the east Atlantic will mean the trades will be relatively light for the southerly duo.
In the Class 40s the last 24 hours have been a case of the rich getting richer with Thomas Ruyant and his Destination Dunkerque having another big day extending out to 79 miles ahead of Yvan Noblet on Appart City, now up to second. The boats behind Ruyant in particular Sam Manuard on Vecteur Plus and Damien Grimont on Monbana have been suffering after straying too close to the centre of the high.
The good news is that finally conditions are favouring the boats to the south with Nicolas Troussel's Credit Mutuel de Bretagne and Pete Goss' DMS (now the most southerly Class 40 in the fleet) both sailing 1.5 knots faster over the last four hours than the boats to the north. Already this has caused Troussel, the double Solitaire du Figaro winner to pull up to 7th overall while Goss is now up to 14th. The boats to the south look set to have better conditions than the northerly group for the next two to three days.