The strong trade winds and high speeds south from the Canary islands have taken a toll on the Barcelona World Race fleet as Jean Le Cam and Bruno Dubois head for the Cape Verde islands this afternoon after losing the mast of their IMOCA Open 60 Président.
After hitting some type of floating object which has damaged the crash box on the bow of Foncia which they noticed on Sunday, Michel Desjoyeaux and François Gabart confirmed this morning that they are preparing to make a technical stop in Brazil, probably in Recife to repair or replace the sacrificial section which served its purpose, preventing damage to the bow section.
Speeds have dropped now for the leaders who keep pressing hard down towards the Doldrums, but who will be taking the chance to re-group, to recharge their energies after three seemingly endless days and nights of on-the-edge sailing. For the leading duo the passage across the Doldrums looks to be relatively straightforward, and they will start to feel the effects of the convergence zone this evening. The slow-down for the leaders might be scarcely noticeable and last around 24-36 hours. Leader Virbac-Paprec 3 might even expect to be sliding into the southern hemisphere, across the Equator by Wednesday evening around 1800-1900hrs
The top half of the fleet have a time window of around 48 hours to get down to the Doldrums, but then as the Trade Winds in the north start to diminish, the light winds convergence zone spreads north and the later arrivals might lose up to another half a day or so, on the leading pack.
The technical stopover for Michel Desjoyeaux and François Gabart, expected to be in Recife this Friday, is expected to be relatively straightforward, and requires a detour which is not too far off the course considering the present position of the St Helena high pressure system which presses the fleet closer to the Brazilian coast. The ‘nose job’ procedure could take as little as four hours to complete with the boat required to be lifted out of the water.
But for Le Cam and his Catalan co-skipper, the prospects are much bleaker. The French skipper might be more battle scarred, hardened by the slings and arrows of misfortune on the oceans over his 25 year career than the full time cardiologist Garcia, but both were putting a stoic, brave face on their fate. Garcia, whose childhood dream of racing round the world looks to be over for the moment, said: “I’m touched by it. I have thought about it all night. But there is nothing either of us can do about it. Life is like this. Sometimes you just have to take it. I never expected this at all.”
Jean le Cam explained what happened: "It happened at about 1900 hrs, so it wasn’t yet dark. There were 20-25 knots of wind and we slammed into a wave. We were under gennaker, but it was nothing exceptional. How and why it happened, I’ve no idea. It wasn’t really as if we were digging into a wave. We just slammed into it. It had already happened twenty times before. As we hit the wave, we heard a cracking sound. It was all over in two seconds. You start to look up and it’s already over. I’ve no idea what really happened. I was at the helm and Bruno at the nav station on stand-by. The mast fell forwards. It just snapped. I can’t really say any more than that. It must have broken in several pieces. After that there’s always the same worry. You want to avoid damaging the hull. We had to get it all out of the way as quickly as possible. We cut the halyards and everything else away and got rid of it to make sure the boat was clear. Then we started up the engine immediately.”
Messages of solidarity and support were received by the Président duo, not least the practical advice from Alex Pella, Garcia’s fellow Barcelona skipper who offered a list of personal advice, having had to stop there after losing the mast of his Mini in 2007, not least to enjoy the Portuguese beer and pizzas in the yacht club.
While Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron extended their lead to 83.2 miles this afternoon over Foncia, Spain’s Olympic duo Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez proved the quickest in the fleet, sailing 424 miles in 24 hours, the greatest distance yet in this edition of the Barcelona World Race. They are up to fourth place now, passing Mirabaud, and are just 40 miles behind their compatriots on Estrella Damm, Pepe Ribes and Alex Pella.
“We are fine," reported Xabi Fernandez. "We are resting a little bit and enjoying everything which went well for us yesterday and today. A few days ago we chose to go to the west and we have been pushing very hard since. And now we are very happy to be between Mirabaud and Estrella Damm. We are making good averages, normally we go with the A3 and one reef or the small spinnaker and all the time on the helm. We knew that President had some problems but the information chilled us a bit, it is a real pity and we wish them all the best and send them a big hug.”
Pepe Ribes said: “We're a bit tired from the incident with the A6 two nights ago. Now we have 20 knots of NE, trade winds. The winds has dropped a bit, allowing us to rest a bit. The mood is very good, as always. Any time is a chance because Foncia is faster, but it is also true that they have a considerable advantage. Our objective is to make a good race. There are faster and slower boats but we must always try to sail at our max but above all without breaking anything. It's a very long race and you have to push but not break.
"We are looking to the forecasts and it seems it will not be very different. The Doldrums are very narrow. It seems that going to the west of 26 we would be able to cross relatively quickly. Today we must seize the opportunities with winds of between 25 and 30 knots to run as much as we can. Tomorrow will trim more where we can cross with satellite photos. Now 28 and 22 knots boat speed, surfing. We go under A3, the staysail and the full main. The waves are a bit smaller and are between 4 and 5 meters. It's nice to drive the boat. Normally we spend the watches driving. The waves are quite long and can make very long surfs. It’s very enjoyable.”