President into the lead
As Jean le Cam and Bruno Garcia on Président seized a tiny advantage from their course which took them inshore across the Gulf of Valencia, three different teams have now led since the Barcelona World Race started at 1300 yesterday.
The first night and morning saw intense competition continuing in light downwind conditions, grey overhead with flat light as the main group of five or six boats all reported around midday today, that they were all able to see each other clearly as each of the duos tried to make the best of the patchy, and often inconsistent winds.
By 1500 today Président’s option to break slightly more to the west of the leaders, in search of better breeze seemed to have paid off as le Cam and Garcia managed to squeeze down towards the critical passing of Cabo de la Nao which they were less than a mile off this afternoon.
The vastly experienced le Cam will take no great store from the tiny lead over his long time friend, rival and sparring partner, Desjoyeaux, but he and Garcia will be pleased to get a first chance to measure the pace of the slightly older, 2007 generation of Président against the fleet’s newest, Foncia.
“Happy New Year from the crew of Foncia," reported Desjoyeaux. "The start of the year was a bit tough on the nerves. The sea is pretty smooth, the sky is grey sometimes with a few little showers. We have five knots of breeze but not much more as we head down the course towards (Cabo de la) Nao.
“François has been steering for three hours and so I will be going to replace him. Since daybreak really we have all been very close together, there are five or six boats around us. We were a little surprised to be leading because we did not really see the lights of our rivals, but this is just a tiny bit of the course. It is a little random and not easy to pick our way in the Mediterranean calms.”
The first days of this 90+ day marathon race are much more about simply staying with the sailing ‘peloton’, making sure that when the breaks come, you are on the right side of the divide.
While this pack which has so far set the pace contains Spain’s double Olympic medallists Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez, third on Mapfre, and the winner of the first edition Jean-Pierre Dick, with Loïck Peyron on Virbac-Paprec 3, only eight miles was separating the top eight IMOCA Open 60’s as they entered into their second full day of racing. The experienced, expected ‘usual suspects’ are all safely in that group.
Jean-Pierre Dick reported: “Happy New Year to all. The first night went well. Everything is good. It has been quite stressful because the wind has been very changeable so you have to be vigilant and reactive. Midnight was not too bad, we had a few little treats for our supper and it was pretty calm. We had some scallops, foie gras and chocolate cake. We both had a turn to sleep, but only a little, just enough to recharge the brain a bit. We made a few good gybes, some sail changes. In these light airs these manoeuvres are pretty straightforwards but you still don’t want to make any mistakes. And at the moment we can see most of the boats around about us.”
There were a few nervous hours for the German-American duo Boris Herrmann and Ryan Breymaier on their first night racing together, when they missed one small wind shift during the night and lost touch with the boats in front of their Neutrogena.
But through the morning they fought back. They both sounded tired, but evidently relieved when they spoke after having dealt with their first serious racing challenge together, having made good a deficit of about 15 miles to again have the boats ahead of them within sight.
Boris Herrman said:"Surprisingly seeing all those family and friends at the start calmed me down. I think it made both of us really happy to see so many people and it gave us confidence. It’s obviously a really nice moment when we can share those things, with everyone cheering together for the start. The conditions are not hard at all, it’s a very flat sea and good breeze to get it going. At one point I had a little nap and Ryan woke me up to just change from the kite to the Code Zero, in no wind, it was completely flat water with maybe 2 or 3 knots of wind, and we were maybe two or three boat lengths from a couple of other boats, so it was an interesting night. At the beginning [we were steering] a lot but at night when it’s so dark I think the pilot can do well, at least when the water’s flat and the boat has enough wind, we just steer sometimes when it drops really far."
For Wouter Verbraak and Andy Meiklejohn, the pairing drafted together on Hugo Boss by the sudden surgery required to skipper Alex Thomson at 48 hours before the start, it has not so much been a baptism of fire as some tortuously slow hours in the kind of conditions which do rank as the Achilles heel for the fleet’s heaviest but most powerful IMOCA 60. Equally though, the duo were probably counting their blessings that their first few hours racing together have been in such benign conditions.
Meiklejohn said: "Given the clouds that have pushed us in certain directions, I think we’re pretty comfortable with where we’re heading. The rest of the fleet seems to be heading there too, they’ve just managed to get in that direction a little sooner, so we’re pretty comfortable with what’s happening.
“All the maneouvres need two people but I know the boat a bit better so I’ll set everything up and then we’ll get into it, and Wouter’s been looking a lot more at the technical weather situation. But so much of it is just the clouds that you see and gybing away from the light spots, you can’t really tell just from looking at the weather files so we try to work on a general trend but you know a lot of that depends purely on what you’ve got at the time. There’s some stoppages coming up, it’s just making sure we can make the most of it."
Sounding particularly exhausted, almost overwhelmed after the high stress of getting a new rig stepped on time to start, Central Lechera Asturiana’s Juan Merediz (ESP) admitted that they need to regroup and find a rhythm that allows them to build up their energies.
Standings at 1600hrs, Saturday 1st January 2011
1 Président (Le Cam/Garcia) 24420.2 miles to finish, 2 Foncia (Desjoyeaux/Gabart) +1.4 miles, 3 Mapfre (Martinez/Fernandez) +3.4 miles, 4 Virbac-Paprec 3 (Dick/Peyron) +5 miles, 5 Groupe Bel (De Pavant/Audigane) +5.3 miles, 6 Estrella Damm Sailing Team (Pella/Ribes) +6 miles, 7 Mirabuad (Wavre/Paret) +7.5 miles, 8 GAES Centros Auditivos (Caffari/Corbella) +14.4 miles, 9 We Are Water (Mumbru/Sanmarti) +17.3 miles, 10 Neutrogena (Hermann/Breymaier) +22.4 miles, 11 Hugo Boss (Meiklejohn/Verbraak) +37.8 miles, 12 Renault ZE Sailing Team (Piris/Rivero) +49.2 miles, 13 Forum Martim Catalan (Marin/Aglaor) +54.9 miles, 14 Central Lechera Asturiana (Merediz/Palacio) +57.4 miles.