Foncia takes the lead
Now firmly into quick downwind tradewinds sailing after the Canary Islands, the lead of the Barcelona World Race swapped again this afternoon not long after Michel Desjoyeaux and François Gabart gybed on to a more southerly course on Foncia.
While Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron on Virbac Paprec 3 carried on, the leaders for the last five days, investing a more westerly track, the more direct route south towards the equator computes as an immediate gain for Foncia, the other half of the leading duopoly.
Jean Pierre Dick reported: “Conditions are very good. Most of all at night with a little moon crescent that slowly grows. We have seen thousands and thousands of stars. It’s incredible. Tonight we will not have that much time to gaze at them. We are almost in the Trade Winds now. Foncia is just beside us now. It gives intensity to the whole race. We are racers first of all. We are hooked into the game. We try to do our best. Each in turn adds miles to his gauge. The fight will be magnificent. Our boats are very close. It’s good for comparisons. It also allows us to test the sails, the spis, the material in general. Speed tests are done easily. It is very interesting. It was already the case three years ago with PRB. The Story repeats itself. I hope it ends up as well for us as it did last time.
"The Barcelona World Race is a great race. Being two we can have a better performance on the boat. Even if we are as tired as when we sail solo, we are less stressed. We have 4 days ahead of us full speed, in the Trade Winds. We will have to balance our energy, be at the helm or let the autopilot do the job, rest a bit… It is a sheer speed race. Life on board is good. We are very motivated by the final objective. We talk a little bit about our families – I have just become a father – or about our projects, like the America’s Cup for Loïck and the Vendée for me. Of course we discuss strategy and the positioning of our boat with regard to the rest of the fleet.”
The well organised, well established tradewinds will offer some four days or so or very similar, fast conditions. While the skippers have talked since breaking out the Mediterranean about establishing the real ‘ocean racing routine', in fact since then so close has the racing been at the front, in the different groups, and even those with many miles to make up towards the back of the fleet, the pace and rhythm has been fractured by changeable breezes, and the need to keep at 100% all the time.
With the trade winds should come the real chance to set a more settled routine. The protracted spell of northeastly breeze of 17-25 knots should see manoeuvres, gybes, as the only interruptions to the fixed pattern of work and rest.
On today’s radio and audio vacs young guns like Ryan Breymaier – round the world rookie - and Mirabaud’s much more experienced Dominique Wavre, on his seventh race circumnavigation, both sounded slightly tired after their first week of racing, and both will look forward to the settled rhythm of the trades. Wavre admitted it was tiring and stressful, Breymaier said they were finding it quite easy to push the boat so hard.
Wavre: “Everything works well on board Mirabaud. We are under spinnaker, with around 15-20 knots of wind, with a nice stately swell coming from the West. Life is okay, we are happy about our position in the ranking. Everything works perfectly on board, there is no damage of any kind. We are in the game. To make a summary of the week I would say it has been very tiring because there were many different weather situations, and one had top lay them all right. We have maneuvered quite a lot. I feel a great pleasure in racing, and this makes the intense physical tiredness disappear day after day.
"We have a sparring partner to sprint with: Estrella Damm. The two in front of us are quite quick. It is a good challenge! Today it’s started to feel really warm, The trade wind is here, it’s obvious. Life evolves around the two hours shifts at the helm. We are familiar with this, having already done a Barcelona World Race. It is very important to be in a rhythm. “
Breymaier: “We have been pushing the boat super super hard all night. We are 1.5 miles from Groupe Bel with the spinnaker up. We have just taken down the reaching gennaker and but up the big spinnaker and are on our way south!
"We try to be pushing at 110 % all the time. We make sure we have the biggest sails we can have up all the time, always have someone on deck all the time and pushing. The way we run is we each sleep when we are tired and when you get super tired you wake the other one up, something like 3 hours each through the night. And through the day its all day on deck, one driving and one trimming a grinding, making sure the boat is at 100% all the time. It is not impossible. And once we get to reaching conditions we can relax a little. But when you are alongside another boat next to you its impossible not to push. We are definitely happiest pushing.
“I think Bilou’s Vendée Globe [Roland Jourdain] proved the boat is pretty competitive against the newer boats and we never lay back and wait. It is a testament to the original design and the work we have done to the boat. We will wait and see if that is the same in the trades, but we are already in 16-17 knots, alongside Groupe Bel and with the big spinnaker up so we will see what happens over the next five days.
The whole week has been good, never super difficult, the whole thing has just been awesome so far, really nice sailing and to have been where we are in the first week, in a decent position is good.
"This morning I did think 1 week down, 12 to go, or 11…You are aware that it’s a long way, but already we are at the Canaries then we get to the Doldrums, to the St Helena high, and the south. But its one step at a time and you end up at your destination. I just think about getting the food eaten because it’s heavy! We have a few oranges and apples left but had the last bread and cheese sandwiches one and a half days ago when the bread went mouldy, so now it is down to freeze dried and pasta occasionally.”
While Breymaier and Boris Herrmann have been setting the bar high on their Neutrogena in eighth place, in the mix of the five boat pack the leader is still Olympic medallists Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez who in fifth have five miles in hand over Jean Le Cam and Bruno Garcia on President in sixth.
This tightly packed group, with 24 miles from fifth to ninth-placed Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella, really does comprise the race’s most varied cross section of duos, all presently putting in the same level of performance.
From the Olympic duos on their IMOCA big race debut, to the highly accomplished Le Cam and Catalan round the world first time, to the well proven Groupe Bel, the hard driving Neutrogena duo to the GAES girls, the pace is tough and even between these boats just now but the cavalcade of the trade-winds will see much more of straight speed drag race.
For the pack which is chasing them there is the passage of the Canary Islands to deal with. They will have the chance to use the acceleration zones between the islands, where the wind funnels, squeezed between the high land as an opportunity to gain, or to lose miles.
Almost as if to underline the final evolution to the proper rhythm that will come with the speed race south, fresh food is finished. Neutrogena, Virbac-Paprec 3 and Mirabaud all confirmed they are down to the nitty gritty of freeze dried food now, save for a little remaining fresh fruit.
Barcelona World Race Standings at 1400GMT
1 FONCIA 23253,3 miles to finish
2 VIRBAC-PAPREC 3 at 8 miles from leader
3 MIRABAUD at 105,2 miles
4 ESTRELLA DAMM Sailing Team 111,8 miles
5 MAPFRE at 175,9 miles
6 PRESIDENT at 184,7 miles
7 GROUPE BEL at 193,5 miles
8 NEUTROGENA at 198,1 miles
9 GAES CENTROS AUDITIVOS at 220,4 miles
10 RENAULT Z.E at 314 miles
11 WE ARE WATER at 349 miles
12 CENTRAL LECHERA ASTURIANA at 376,6 miles
13 FORUM MARITIM CATALA at 382,5 miles
14 HUGO BOSS at 398,8 miles