Upwind to the Canaries

Skippers report in from the Barcelona World Race

Wednesday January 5th 2011, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

They may be in separate oceans, dealing with very different conditions, but the moods of the Barcelona World Race skippers today spanned a full range of emotions and each did not necessarily directly reflect their current fortunes.

Not unexpectedly race leaders Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron on Virbac-Paprec 3, cutting a classic saw-tooth course south and west, under blue skies in the Atlantic, were brimful of the joys of more consistent southwesterly wind and a return to the ocean racing rhythm that the duo – who won the Transat Jacques in 2005 together – know well.

Contacted for today’s videoconference, the livewire Peyron was clearly full of energy and both skippers revitalised after their tiring endeavours in the Mediterranean. They still hold a lead of some 56 miles on second placed Michel Desjoyeaux and François Gabart on Foncia and the leading duo were steadily making more than 10 knots this afternoon on their similar latest generation VPLP/Verdier designs which were launched in different hemispheres this year.

“The sky is a beautiful blue,” said Dick, “ It is good to be able to enjoy the moment. The Mediterranean was a bit difficult. It was extremely labourious. We breathed a sigh of relief after passing Gibraltar escaping as if we had been trapped in a fishing net. We are now into a more classical rhythm more typical of ocean racing. We have our strategy and can see it clearly. I don’t say that we are blind to what else goes on, but it does not influence our strategy. If we start marking the chasing pack, then you start to miss things. The objective is to race to our strengths. We probably still have a day and a half of upwind.”

Behind Michel Desjoyeaux reported: “Today we are heeling a bit on Foncia. The sea is still flat and not too uncomfortable. We are heading into more water. We had prepared for that. We look at the weather and the different strategic options. What’s coming does not exactly fill us with enthusiasm. I was making a routing. Usually it is François who looks at that. But he is asleep and so I’m having a look to see what’s happening. We’ve got a few more hours like this unto tomorrow until we the get the wind change at the front. I wonder if anyone might try a different option. According to the models you can pass by the shore or offshore. I already know the African beaches well so I won’t be making any tourism this year.

"At the start we were not really feeling like we were starting a round the world. We were so focused on what happened in the Mediterranean. Now we make tacks of a few hours. The rankings are mathematical. The distance to the finish does not reflect reality. We measure in time and so five or six hours of deficit is nothing too bad. It is good to have someone marking the course for us. It’s the same for those behind us.

"We changed headsails because those for the Med and not this for the Atlantic. We have had the staysail out, we out away the Solent. There is a front to go and find and we will go for it. We set our sails for the time, as good sailors would. François did warn me of winds yesterday of more than 25 knots, but we are expecting 30-35 more in the gusts. It will be important to be able to reduce sail accordingly.

"It was quite calm last night we could recover a bit, and I did some clerical stuff. The boat is steered by the pilot. It is not worthwhile tiring yourself out for nothing. Outside we are starting to see signs of the front: darker clouds on the horizon and the sea is getting up a bit. There will be no more sun before tomorrow and after the front. There is no doubt, we can see well where we are going.”

In fourth place Alex Pella on Estrella Damm, now 22 miles behind Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret on Mirabaud, also reflected today that the Barcelona duo, top Spanish boat in the fleet, are pretty happy with their lot.

“We had passed Tarifa when there was most current and the wind had switched off. We went back a little and we thought that we had not got out of the Mediterranean. But we got a puff of wind and we got closer to the Spanish coast and we could make it. Pepe had some stomach trouble but he seems better. We are pretty happy with where we are in the fleet now. The level of the fleet is very high. Our objective is make as few mistakes as possible and to do what we know best. At the moment I suppose we have made fewer mistakes than those behind us and more than those who are ahead of us, but we are OK, we are good with that. We have left the Mediterranean very tired and have been careful to recover. It is important to rest for the days ahead will be demanding.”

They might not be where they would hope to be, 14th with a deficit of 345 miles on the leaders, but Wouter Verbraak was upbeat and objective about their situation on Hugo Boss, pointing out that he and Andy Meiklejohn had gelled well and were lifting each other well despite their lack of wind and troubles getting to Gibraltar. They were hoping to clear into the Mediterranean late today but still had 60 miles to make this afternoon.

"We are moving now, almost in the right direction too! There is no wind on the water but we are moving along. It is still challenging. The last few days have been mixed emotions. There have been some good times as we actually pulled off some good moves and manoeuvres and had gained back two places, but we got stuck one and a half days ago. That was quite frustrating. We have been good at cheering each other up. This is a team game and you have to make use of your partner. I think one thing in this race just now is to remind each other of the extreme length of the race.

"This boat was designed, built and developed to reach its potential in reaching in stronger winds in the major types of weather systems all around the globe. We always knew this is the light winds part of the race and the boat is not liking it, so we remind each other of that and keep the course distance clear in our heads, that is very important. There is not much positive about being behind. But the tradewinds south of the Canaries are well established and we have options there and from Gibraltar to the Canaries there are two options.

"The first 48 hours were tough. There were a lot of corners, changes and transitions. And then the last one and a half days have been hand steering, now we are trucking under pilot, so the routine is to make sure everything is ready for the stronger winds outside. The ETA at Gibraltar? Well we should take the remainder of today to get there. But the model at the moment is ‘take it as it comes’. We deal with every puff, every lull every cloud line, step by step to Gibraltar.

Less sanguine was Ludovic Aglaor (FRA) on FMC. “This is still the Med. It is a lottery.” The Franco Catalan duo were lining up to break free at just after 1700hrs UTC hard on the heels of Renault ZE Sailing Team. Their Toño Piris (ESP) was also slightly dejected at their placing and how long it had taken them to pass Gibraltar. "We have been becalmed for a long time, so now the game begins again we hope. It seems like the Mediterranean does not want us to leave. The Mediterranean has been like we have rarely seen it, everything against us, wind and current. The best gift of the Kings will be to escape from the Straits."

Piris was however getting the Kings’ day present that he had hoped for as they reached Atlantic waters at around 1650hrs UTC, with Central LecheraAsturiana and FMC all looking like they will not be far behind, all within 3.5 miles of each other.

And while the top four boats really have a decent jump on the fleet, from fifth placed Neutrogena to ninth placed Groupe Bel there is just 20 miles between them in terms of DTF. Even this evening’s escape posse Renault ZE Sailing Team, FMC, and Central Lechera Asturiana are packed tight for an engaging descent of the Atlantic. So times may have been difficult recently in the light breezes and strong currents but this Atlantic stage will lack for nothing because of that.

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