Into the trades
Fast sailing in the northeasterly trade winds, one of the most enjoyable stages of round the world racing, has been order of the day for the top 10 boats in the Barcelona World Race.
Plunging downwind in winds from 20-25 knots, with the odd stronger gust to keep the helms’ on their toes, has provided high speeds for the leading duos who have all been averaging more than 15 knots, and the second half of the fleet at least 10 knots.
At such speeds, such as François Gabart on Foncia reported their top mark so far at 24.3 knots today, full foul weather gear is required in the cockpit, especially considering that the seas remain slightly chaotic and disorganised and the leaders were all reporting wet conditions on deck. In such conditions concentration and focus is vital to keep the IMOCA Open 60s at full speed for the sea state and not necessarily the wind conditions.
“It is summer on Foncia," reported Gabart. "Light clothing inside is pretty much a requirement. Outside Mich’ is in full foul weather gear. The weather is nice, the seas are warm. We make a fast southerly course, and the temperature is heating up. There were great conditions last night, the boat was going well. The plankton on the surface of the water creates a great phosphorescent trails as the boat slams, or breaks through a wave. It was great. You have to stay focused and concentrate. It is not that simple and you have to concentrate not to broach.
"Just now we are going at between 17 and 20 knots, with a high speed so far of 24.2 knots on the GPS. There is between 18 and 30 knots of wind. If the seas were flatter it would be easier, however the seas are a bit complicated chaotic. In fact by day it is easier to anticipate, but by night it is less so and you have to react quickly. I made a small broach yesterday afternoon, just learning where to set the level, it was nothing too bad. I know my limits and had my baptism. And I know how far I can push.
"For us we know the Cape Verde strategy but would rather not say what it is, but it should take us 48 hours from the Canaries to the Cape Verde islands. Outside we are very go very fast, 22-23 knots Mich’ assures me!”
Spanish duos Mapfre and Estrella Damm have shown the virtue of their respective training, experience and optimisation. Olympic medallists Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez have been consistently quick, in fifth leading the group of 5, by 13 miles this afternoon, but with a very strong westerly position already banked. Their downwind speeds have been regularly excellent over the last 48 hours perhaps underlining some of their cohesion honed as the most successful 49er skiff crew of their generation.
And Barcelona-based Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes confirmed that their work rate through last night, making four or five gybes to stay at the best possible angles, was part of the reason that Estrella Damm has spent the day in third place and now moved 10 miles clear of their fourth placed rivals, Dominique Wavre (SUI) and Michèle Paret (FRA) on Mirabaud.
Pella reported: “Last night we were dealing with the wind direction and we did four or five gybes. We put ourselves more in the west than Mirabaud and that is why we are up on the podium. We have between 20 and 25 knots from the NE. And the boat is going perfectly at around 18 knots. It was a bit of a fight against the high pressure, we are now winning miles to the south and are quite tired because of all the work and manoeuvres. We have been very focused and concentrated. Running watches is quite difficult when there are manoeuvres.
"Yesterday we did not know how to pass Cabo Verde but the ideal things would be to cross to the west, because there is a risk passing between the islands because of the lee of them, but we will know in the next ten hours what we will do. If the wind keeps like this we will not be too worried.”
Dee Caffari pledged that it is catch-up time now for her and Anna Corbella on GAES Centros Auditivos after losing miles to their main rivals. A clean up of the boat yesterday and, then a refreshing sea-water shower for the girls today, Caffari felt was indicative that their tactical errors at Madeira were in the past and now was their time for fast sailing.
Dee reported: “It is marvellous, we are enjoying the sunshine, the big swell running in the right direction and downwind sailing at last. We really suffered sailing too close to Madeira and were swallowed by the high pressure ridge and then it took us a while to get on the right sail plan for the conditions. We had a really big swell and the wind was inconsistent, from 5-9 knots for a few hours and changing in direction by 30 degrees. It took us a while to get something which worked. But now we are making good progress and have got some miles to catch up. We have shown we have the potential for sure, that we can sail the boat fast. We just made a tactical mistake a Madeira and weren’t on the sail changes quick enough so we have to keep on the heels of these because we have not given up on catching them. Now we are into the trades the routine is about keeping the boat fast, resting well, and checking the boat.”
“It was funny seeing Anna’s face looking at the routing to the Doldrums which has us at the Equator in four days, all a lot quicker than her Mini, it is quite interesting to see that.This is definitely a team effort. I need looking after, the boat needs looking after, as does Anna. So we all look out for each other. I didn’t realise really that we were quite tired when we left the Mediterranean. It’s good now and we are enjoying the sailing, happy, relaxed more, and enjoying the routine and I am enjoying sharing the boat as well which is important.
"We celebrated one week with a spring clean. It makes me feel better, the boat feels better, now we spring clean ourselves. But of course being a girl boat we smell of roses all the time. At night it is very dark and so it is quite hard to be full of beans on watch changes, so its just been passing on information then go to sleep, and letting each other wake up slowly.
“But by day it is different, we always eat most meals together except breakfast, we chat through the routing and who is doing what on the race course, so it is sociable, more so than other boats. And now it easier sailing it is more enjoyable to spend time awake than asleep.
“I have a E Book with me, something which I never had before, so I have been enjoying reading a few pages on that, which is a ‘novel’ idea for me, and just a switch off, and not concentrate on the noises of the boat.
“So now we are in a position to close some miles, there are puffy white clouds, we have 15-20 knots of wind, and we are smiling.”
The leading duo should pass the Cape Verde islands within the between Monday night and Tuesday morning, presenting their next strategic decision: whether to route through the islands or outside to the west.
Sched 9 January at 1400 GMT
1 VIRBAC-PAPREC 3 at 22881,6 from the finish
2 FONCIA à 35 miles from the leader
3 ESTRELLA DAMM Sailing Team +171,6 miles
4 MIRABAUD + 181,4
5 MAPFRE +286,3
6 NEUTROGENA +299,3
7 GROUPE BEL + 306,2
8 PRESIDENT + 309,7
9 GAES CENTROS AUDITIVOS + 377,9
10 RENAULT Z.E + 464,7
11 WE ARE WATER + 480,3
12 CENTRAL LECHERA ASTURIANA + 509,3
13 FORUM MARITIM CATALA +513,8