Virbac Paprec leads out of the Med
In the first Barcelona World Race back in November 2007 it was Jean-Pierre Dick who was first to Gibraltar, escaping from the Mediterranean on Paprec-Virbac 2 with co-skipper Damian Foxall after setting the inaugural record of 3 days 14 hours and 25 minutes. After making a gain of 11 miles over second placed Foncia since the early this morning, Dick may be back on course to pass Gibraltar holding the race lead.
Racing the new Virbac-Paprec 3 with Loïck Peyron, the defending course champion was just over 30 miles from the point of Tarifa which marks the transition from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, with a margin of 14.1 miles over double Vendée Globe winning Desjoyeaux (FRA) with François Gabart (FRA) on Foncia.
The first of the race’s six ocean stage trophies is the material reward for escaping from the unpredictable, capricious breezes of the Mediterranean, putting behind them the 540 miles leg from Barcelona, but most of the skippers will be simply looking forward to the change of pace and stronger winds.
If they are to break the 2007 course record from the start to Gibraltar the leader needs to pass by 03h 25m (UTC) Tuesday morning.
But between them and being able to close the Mediterranean door behind them, the Straits of Gibraltar promise strong contrary currents – 2-4 knots at times – and very feeble breezes. So the Virbac-Paprec 3 duo will still have their work cut out to hold their lead, likely to run out first of what westerly headwinds they have had.
It has been the southern group of boats which has continued to make the running since last night.
The top six boats, Virbac Paprec 3, Foncia, Neutrogena, Estrella Damm Sailing Team, Mirabaud and GAES Centros Auditivos, all profited from routing closer to the Moroccan coast, gaining more than 70 miles since last night against some of the duos which elected to try the passage closer to the Spanish coast, such as Kito de Pavant and Sebastien Audigane on Groupe Bel, and Spain’s Olympic 49er aces Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez who dropped from sixth to ninth today on Mapfre.
Picking the best route through the lighter and very unstable, shifty winds round midday and this afternoon has still certainly been taxing for the leading group. The difference of taking one or two favourable local changes in wind direction or hooking into a strand of additional breeze has made big differences. Both Foncia and Estrella Damm looked to have had spells in lighter, aimless breezes making little net progress early this afternoon, while their closest rivals – respectively Virbac-Paprec 3 and Neutrogena only a few miles to windward in each case - managed to lift away and gain miles.
From Estrella Damm at midday Pepe Ribes commented: “Right now we are two miles off Foncia who are to windward and we have Jean-Pierre three miles to leeward. To have visual contact with other boats always motivates you but the trick generally is to maintain a high percentage, high averages. The conditions are difficult to read so when you think you should be doing well you don’t. Right now I think it will be complicated for the passage through the Straits. Apparently there will be little wind and strong currents against us.”
Aboard Neutrogena, for the American-German duo Ryan Breymaier and Boris Herrmann on their first IMOCA race together, their fortunes continue to flourish as they elevated themselves to third, the IMOCA Open 60 rookies who met only in April for the first time, racing in their six years old boat.
After having had a spell of fast reaching last night in winds of 15-20 knots Andy Meiklejohn had a cheerful note in his voice after he and Wouter Verbraak appreciated the respite from the slow, plodding progress in the lighter winds. Hugo Boss in 12th was making ground on their nearest rivals We Are Water and Renault ZE Sailing Team in the early afternoon, the 10th and 11th placed boats making less than one knot.
“We had 15-16 knots last night with some big sails up and that was great, the first time we really had the boat moving at some good speeds," said Meiklejohn. “We are pretty realistic about where the boat is going to perform and where it wasn’t. We have not got ourselves down at all because we did know where it would struggle. It looks worse than it is for sure because there are gates with the weather.”