Barcelona World Race's own magic kings tack south
While Barcelona and the rest of Spain was last night and today celebrating the Festival of the Three Magic Kings, the Barcelona World Race skippers, for the first time in recent days, shared the same present; the gift of good breezes. From the front to the back of the fleet wind speed were at least 15 knots, and boat speeds almost all reached double digits at times.
In fact the leading duo, the ‘wise kings’ aboard Virbac-Paprec 3 and Foncia, had the extra bonus of getting to the weather front which allowed them to tack from bouncing upwind in 20-25 knots of southwesterly breeze to faster reaching in the new northwesterly which should propel them south at good speeds. The leading duo tacked at around 1230hrs today, with 35 miles separating Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron on Virbac-Paprec 3 and their speeds had already jumped two knots.
The last boat to emerge from being stuck fast in the Straits of Gibraltar was Hugo Boss early this morning and this afternoon Andy Meikeljohn and Wouter Verbraak had the powerful IMOCA Open 60 fully powered up as the joint fastest of the fleet, making nearly 14 knots. And they had made some 40 miles on the leaders over the course of today. But they look set to encounter light winds again as the high pressure in front of expands slightly east.
As Barcelona took to the streets in their tens of thousands, enjoying the huge fiesta, so too for the Spanish skippers of the fleet, the mood was at least upbeat if not completely party mode. Anglo-Spanish duo Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella showed off their booty of presents on today’s live videoconference, including matching named hats from their shore crew, but the British-Spanish duo were even more content to be absolutely in the heat of the ‘race within the race’.
Dee: "We are upwind, a little bit bumpy, a little bit wet, and we are going to the west. We got the hats as presents because we are both very good girls. We obviously have been very good because we have a lot of presents. We have the hats with our names and the names of our team, just in case we forget who everybody is. We are going to be away for a long time. We have presents from the team. It’s a Spanish thing and I had Christmas. We have a new addition to the team, a gorgeous little puppy to keep us company because we don’t have Jack (Dee’s spaniel) and Piula (Anna’s golden retriever). Anna has a sun hat for the tropics."
Anna: “I am wishing to put my hat on and we have a bit of coal for the bad things we have done, but only a little bit."
Dee: "We worked pretty hard with Neutrogena to get out of the Mediterranean, and the others behind came out quite quickly. They have been chasing us down all night and they are uncomfortably close. We can see Neutrogena, we can see them all the time. The position reports are in and we are all doing the same thing, pushing really hard. They are chasing us and we are feeling a little uncomfortable."
While the girls had hats and a toy puppy, for Renault ZE Sailing Team’s duo it was sweets and sunhats. Pachi Rivero reported: “We are very happy to be out of the Atlantic and clear of the Mediterranean. It has been very hard, many many hours becalmed, but already have put it behind us and are getting on. Now we are going well. We have opened our presents. Sobaos, and at sea that is delicious. I could eat them all but I have to share everything on board. Good sun hats, music and a letter from the family. Great Kings! We are happy and full of drive to get the best from Regatta ZE. It is a long distance race and we have only started. At the moment we are in the same weather system as the others and that is good. We are heading for the front and then we turn south for the sun and the warmth. Conditions at the moment are good, 13 knots boat speed at 266°.”
Only five miles separate this little group, and three different boats have led this pack over the course of today Spain’s Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez – the Olympic and Volvo Ocean Race stars on Mapfre, the IMOCA debutants Boris Herrmann and Ryan Breymaier on the 2004-built Neutrogena and most recently the hugely experience Jean Le Cam with Bruno Garcia on Président.
Mapfre's Iker Martinez said: "The group of five we have has been formed. We have each other in vision for two days. So we have been sailing within sight of each other. That lets us see the manoeuvres the other boats were doing and maybe this keeps the pressure on us. But this is good for us, it is good not to get relaxed. We are sailing upwind with the solent, taking a reef in and out when the wind gets up or drops. We have a typical sea state you see before a cold front, the waves from the wave from the west and the wind wave from the SW. This afternoon the front should get to us."
From on board Neutrogena American Ryan Breymaier reported: “It’s fine, it’s a bit wet now but better than it was. We have 22-24 knots of breeze on the wind. It is still OK on board, conditions have not gone super rough yet, everything is pretty easy, but certainly going outside on deck is a full foul weather gear experience at this point. In summary our first week, the beginning of the week was great, the middle absolutely terrible and now we are just pushing as hard as we can to try and stay ahead of the three boats who are just behind us. They are newer boats and probably faster on this point of sail, and so we are just trying to stay ahead of them until it goes lighter again in a few days. I would say that as far as our expectations go we are capable of doing well. We did well in the Mediterranean and now we are sort of where we expected to be in general, the bats ahead of us are all very good. It is going to be very hard to keep up with them.”
Président's Jean Le Cam added: “The Atlantic is nothing like the Mediterranean: we’ve really got some wind here. We’ll be watching out for the big shift in direction, like our friends out here. We have got 20-25 knots of wind and are sailing upwind on the port tack. We’re in a little group with Mapfre, which sailed closer to the direct route during the night, and Groupe Bel and Neutrogena. It’s a race within the race. These groups formed as we made our way out of the Mediterranean. Sailing in such close contact is very motivating. When there are several of you together like that, you’re bound to sail quickly.
"The front is expected to reach us at around 1700 hrs GMT. We’ll then change to the starboard tack heading into some heavy seas for two or three hours. For the moment, it’s not that difficult to deal with, but later, we’re really going to have to hold on tight aboard the boat. Ours doesn’t have much volume at the bow, so she cuts nicely through the waves. So it’s quite pleasant really.
"Both Bruno and I managed to get some rest since we left the Mediterranean behind. We’re eating well and we don’t have any particular worries.”
And from Groupe Bel Sebastien Audigane said: “During the night, we had a wind of between 20 and 25 knots. We are heeling and wet! We should hit the low in the afternoon and start running downwind, and heading for the sun. After this very complicated passage in the Mediterranean, it is a pleasure to return to a more "normal" speed. We are able to rely a little more on our weather data. Groupe Bel is making progress at 11 knots; a real pleasure after the four days of calm. Since Gibraltar, Kito and I have found a real rhythm of regular three-hour watches, which, at last, has enabled us to snatch a few good hours sleep in the bunk."
Kito de Pavant: "I'm impatient to start running downwind, because it's not very comfortable for the moment. However I'm not going to complain, because it has been to calm since the start. We should turn south with a strong wind today. There should not be any major change in the medium wind speeds downwind, since the five boats in our group are fairly similar in these conditions. The aim is to reduce the distance with the top of the fleet, but the ranking in itself is not very important at this stage of the race. 200 miles on the scale of the whole world, is nothing! On the other hand, I have at last entered a "round-the-world" frame of mind. We are handling little jobs daily and making sure that every day we check our charging systems: the hydrogenerators, the wind turbine and the engine, since these are essential. You have to be careful, to go as far as possible. For me, this is a little different to my usual habits in shorter races. In the hours to come, we are going to position ourselves as best we can in order to negotiate the Madeira passage and its difficulties! In principle, the wind is a little further to left than planned, which is probably just as good to get us away from the area of strong wind and make progress on our route. We must remain vigilant and not get caught in a trap."
For them with closer to 30 knots of southwesterly breeze at times, and the awkward pre-frontal seas – swell from the west crossed by wind driven waves from the southwest, the bumpy conditions were not east, but for all of them fresh memories of the windless days of the Straits made such conditions a blessed relief.
While the leaders are tracking south to pass downwind close to the west side of Madeira, it will be not be as straightforward for this group who are giving chase. They will likely get to the frontal shift later this evening. Then they need to start thinking of they want to try to squeeze to leeward of the islands and risk the wind shadow from the islands, or whether to try to get out to the west of the islands, in which case they stand more chance of running into the light winds of the expanding high pressure earlier. A dilemma for the gang of five which may well split them up?