Mapfre goes stealth
As Spain’s Estrella Damm consolidate their lead at the head of the Barcelona World Race fleet this afteroon, after Pepe Ribes and Alex Pella telegraphed their steady but obvious move to the east on a more direct route towards the Atlantic Gate which lies some 2000 miles to the south east, their compatriots on Mapfre - who held second place yesterday - chose to hide their strategy from their rivals, and the watching world, when they became the first duo to go into ‘Ghost’ or ‘Furtive’ mode since this morning.
The excitement of Saturday, when they both took over first and second places, is behind the Spanish duos.
Ribes and Pella keep their options open as they lead into the complex south Atlantic, entering negotiation with Saint Helena to try and pass through or round a split personality anticyclone which dominates the passage down to the Roaring Forties and the fast lane into the south Atlantic Ocean.
The options for the leading group are, in fact, many. On Mirabaud, in fourth, Dominique Wavre, the fleet’s veteran with 30 passages up and down this stretch of water – crewed, solo and as a duo - said today that he had assimilated at least ten routing choices.
One of the difficult aspects is that the weather models may be accurate for the next few days, but for seven to nine days hence, when the real ‘end game’ for this stage plays out for the fleet, passing to starboard of Gough Island and the Atlantic Gate, then it becomes much less clear.
Before they went undercover today, Mapfre’s double Olympic medal winning helm Iker Martinez wrote that in some ways they had breathed a sigh of relief that the two French IMOCA Open 60s Foncia and Virbac-Paprec 3, elected to make a technical repair stop in Récife as he felt that the level they had been sailing at was too high for the Mapfre pair to live with long term.
In fact the duo from Spain’s rugged Atlantic north coast had shown a propensity to at least match Foncia and Virbac-Paprec 3 in the fast, trade winds going.
“Our training was probably not as good as we really would have like in this kind of two handed sailing so that was painful for us in the Mediterranean when I guess we really did not know how best to order and choose the right priorities in things," said Martinez. "When you have a number of problems up ahead you need to know how to make the decision, that is the case with the navigation. Some times you have to think of everything, and if the boat is going slowly you can’t divide your brain across the different things, tactics and the speed of the boat.
"Foncia and Virbac Paprec 3 will likely catch us again because of the level that they are setting, that they have demonstrated in the first part of the race when they were very, very strong. The pace and rhythm is very hard for us to reach, to sustain their level. For the time being the time factor is back with us. But we will see how long it takes them to get back to us.
"There are two tough days ahead. The routing models show that Estrella Damm will get 200 miles in front of us in two days. Each time they increase their lead it is slamming our fingers in a door, but we have to be patient and then it will be our turn to strike back.
"The key point right now is how to get across the high we have just in fornt of us and to get to the first gate in the South Atlantic. The boat can’t jump across the high, so we will have to get around it. So that is why the next days will be so intensive until we get to the south and speed up with the westerly winds.”
The Recife pit stop was over first for the double Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux and co-skipper François Gabart, back on the race course since yesterday evening on Foncia. Gabart reported: "We took over the boat again after the shore team. Over the course of the day had made some small repairs, little things which were not working. We had to just be patient because of course all this time the boat was not going anywhere. I carried on watching the rankings and saw the others moving on and then we sailed out again at 1700GMT.
"We are disappointed to lose ground on a stop like this, but are happy that it went well. The day before I had run some routings for setting out again at 1800hrs. So today we are in the race with a repaired boat, in good shape in and in a ranking which is far from bad.
"We can smile and sleep contently back now we are back on course. For the moment the breeze is not very stable. It is quite pleasant to steer when it is like this and it saves a bit of energy not using the pilots. And the boat certainly moves a few tenths of a knot more quickly.
"I had not really registered that Mapfre had gone into Furtive mode. The field is quite open even if we are a little bit to the west, but we are several thousand miles to the Gate Number 1. We have looked at the situation very carefully yesterday evening and this morning. We did ask ourselves if it was worth using Furtive mode. But for the moment there was no big reason to do it. But it is cool that they start to use it. And today that does not change anything with our strategy.
"There are small depressions which are moving SE. The idea is to get to Gate 1 round the western side of the anticyclone which moves with some small low pressure systems. So the question is can you cut the cheese (corner) and go directly to Gate 1 or to stay with the pressure and to seek the depressions which build off South America.”
First edition winner Jean-Pierre Dick, with Loïck Peyron, on Virbac Paprec 3 were back on the track at 2300 GMT. Since then they have been the among the quickest three boats in the fleet. But their westerly routing, closer to the Brazilian coast means they still spend miles against the leader.
When the Mapfre duo blink back on to the tracker screens Monday evening, on the 1900hrs UTC ranking – stealth mode sends them under the radar for six consecutive position reports – where are they most likely to reappear?
Given their fleet racing experience and sensibilities, one might expect them to try to cover the French duo on the inshore western lane, looking to reconnect with the two duos which have set the pace and strategy so far, those with the most successes IMOCA racing around the world.
Furtive or Ghost mode can be used four times, once in each ‘ocean’, and is a new innovation for this edition of this Barcelona World Race. The standings consider the ghost mode boat fixed to her last position, hence MAPFRE remains third until the other pursuing boats pass.
With all of the fleet now in the southern hemisphere, since backmarker We Are Water crossed at 0230hrs, the fleet compression has continued in small part due to the leaders’ pit stop, but considering that four days ago the deficit from first to last was nearly 700 miles, and now it is just over 500 miles.
Moving into the better established southeasterly and easterly trade winds resets the routines after the doldrums for the middle order racers, giving a chance to catch up with domestic and technical chores to ensure the respective IMOCA Open 60s are in perfect shape.
But the easy routine also offers a little down-time for the co-skippers.
On today’s live Audio and VisioConferences Ryan Breymaier from Neutrogena remarked how pleased he was to have had time to catch up with digital media loaded on to a USB which connected him with friends and family from his native USA. “I got a USB key with photos of sailing I have done in the past, an essay that my cousin wrote on our ancestors, some interesting stuff to read, chocolates. It was good. I miss my friends and family I haven’t seen because I have been in Europe for so long, so it is cool to get things like that. And you do get a little bit of time just now so it is good to be able to catch up.”
And on Renault ZE Sailing Team, Toño Piris today explained how he and co-skipper Pachi Rivero had nurtured back to health a tiny waterlogged bird which had landed on their eighth placed IMOCA Open 60 to hitch a ride. Their little visitor left, fully re-charged, and ready for its long passage home, just like Piris and Rivero.
From ninth places GAES Centros Auditivos Dee Caffari reported: “We have some nice sailing today, finally the rain clouds have gone and we have much more stabilised, constant upwind conditions and so it is lovely sailing. Weather-wise ahead it is not clear cut at all, but it is nice for us for sure to be in the saem weather system as others, so that is important for us.
"The Doldrums were hard work for us, you could not leave the boat for two minutes, so it is nice to be in established wind and that gives us a chance to go through the boat and do all the little jobs which are outstanding and to start looking tactically at the south. We lost some miles in the trade winds when the others were pushing really hard, but tactically I feel I have had a much better race than before and I am much happier with the decisions I have made. It’s all good."