400 mile day runs
Strong trade winds are still providing constant high speeds for the leaders of the Barcelona World Race fleet with all of duos forced to think about nothing else but speed, spending hours on the helm to maximise gains and minimise losses in the thrilling sleigh ride towards the Doldrums.
And the pacemakers today acknowledged that they are looking forward to the respite that the narrow zone of lighter winds will provide, a respite break to recharge themselves and restore some measure of order to their IMOCA Open 60s.
For some the nights have been the most demanding, plunging headlong downwind at speeds consistently above 20 knots in inky blackness. Unable to see the wave patterns or the incoming gusts, some teams have cut their night time shifts on the helm down to an hour at a time, to keep at peak concentration and output.
The pace is relentless, the stress constant. And when something goes wrong then that puts added pressure on the crews. From lead boat Virbac-Paprec 3, making more than 400 miles a day and averaging 17 knots, Loïck Peyron reported that he steered constantly for seven hours yesterday while co-skipper Jean-Pierre Dick was otherwise engaged. And when he spoke on today’s radio conference, as if to underline how wet the conditions were, Peyron had to cut short the conversation with Barcelona when Virbac-Paprec took an especially large wave, soaking him at the nav station.
“All goes well on board even if we are being shaken and bounced about a lot. It makes it difficult to move around. Outside it is pretty bracing, shall we say! For a monohull to get from the Canaries to the Cape Verdes in hours is ultra quick. I spent seven hours at the helm yesterday which was a bit much, but Jean-Pierre was occupied. The helm’ s position is well protected, even from the wind and so feeling. It is a little more difficult at night. The cockpit is very wet the whole time, and often fills with tons of water because often we are crossing the waves. And we catch up with and plough into the back of smaller waves. The bow just crashes through without stopping, There are tens of centimeters of water which wash back on the deck. And contrary to what people think, the seas are short and choppy so not so good for surfing.
"There is no thoughts about motivation on board. We are just staying on top of things which are not easy. We hold an interesting pace and should hold it until the wind drops. We don’t really have time to think about anything other than the boat, because it is going so quick. But we will get time to take care of the boat, and everything as we approach the Doldrums.”
Three IMOCA Open 60s stand out with 24 hour runs of more than 400 miles: Virbac-Paprec 3, Mapfre and Neutrogena. The leading duo have extended their margin to 53 miles over Foncia, Michel Desjoyeaux and François Gabart, plunging past the Cape Verdes this morning. They left San Vincente more than 50 miles to their west, and the volcanic island of Fogo more than 100 miles to port also.
The two lead boats are expected to hold the breeze well down to the Doldrums with another 36 hours of fast sailing. The ITCZ remains quite narrow, but some compression is possible for those who are chasing.
Aboard fourth placed Mirabaud Michele Paret reported: “We are a little shaken around, a little tired. There is between 25 and 30 knots and we and we are under spinnaker and one reef, which is still a lot of sail for the cross seas and so we have to be vigilant. We are running short watches on the helm under spinnaker. The pilot is not so good in this stuff. And we don’t have much time to do anything else.
"And on the helm sometimes it is less than an hour at night. We find our rhythm like that. As soon as we lie down we are out like a light, foul weather gear still on. A great tidy up will be needed at the end of the trades. But that will not be tomorrow.
"We have no real concerns on the leaderboard at the moment, Estrella Damm is a fast boat, and even if we can’t get away from them we will be happy. There is one rudder which vibrates enormously especially in the pilot berth, The noise is like a 125cc moto gp bike. There is no rest, no respite at the moment. Within 36 hours the wind should be a little less. We have made many gybes without any problems recently. There are some sails on the deck which are stacked and well attached, which is as well because they are under water a lot of the time. But the boat is in full flight and so it all drains quickly."
Olympic medallists Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez have continued with their excellent pace in fifth place, setting their sights on the podium.
Martinez reported: “The truth: This is a lot of fun, really great, and the reason we all sail around the world, and whoever says otherwise is lying. Going upwind isn't fun. Now we have to think about the boats ahead: Estrella Damm and Mirabaud who are under 100 miles away, and little by little we are moving in. Although they are doing really well, especially Pepe and Alex, who are sailing a great race and it's not going to be easy to catch them up, but we will try. We'll see! In terms of everything else, things are all the same onboard. A couple of nights ago we were rushing around a bit with some squalls that pushed us from side to side almost all night, but that seems to have paid off”
The Mapfre duo made 13 miles on their Spanish rivals on Estrella Damm over the afternoon, but Pepe Ribes and Alex Pella still have 73 miles of advantage.
The situation is not so good for the lower third of the fleet. The trade winds are expected to degrade and lose some of their consistency. With the Doldrums then extending further north to slow them still further, their options do seem limited.
Andy Meiklejohn reported from Hugo Boss: “We are finally in the trades, we got some good winds we have the spinnaker up and got all the gear in the right place and are moving quite quickly. We had a busy day yesterday driving through the Canaries. We were quite busy. There was not much breeze around and there is a lot of acceleration around the headlands, so we saw up to 30 knots. This is a lot more like the conditions the boat likes and now we are doing all we can to pull back the miles we can. Renault’s out to the west with better wind angle and more breeze so it will be tough to pull them in, but we are doing what we can. We have been loving it all as it is, but now with the spinnaker up we are going fast but trying to conserve our energy when the pilot can drive well, but here we have to get on the wheel and are enjoying it. We have been working hard on communications and trying to talk through things all well in advance and that has worked pretty well. And I think we have had the minimum amount of issues that we have created for ourselves so it must be working pretty well.”