Virbac Paprec 3 reveals herself

Boats to the west look set to be the big winners in the Barcelona World Race

Wednesday January 19th 2011, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

It was all eyes right in the Barcelona World Race today, as Virbac Paprec 3 was unveiled from ‘ghost’ mode, having concealed themselves from the six previous scheds.

Perhaps unsurprising, Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron on their new Verdier-VPLP design have reappeared on the western side of the course, approximately 75 miles NNE of their long-term rivals Foncia.

Jean-Pierre Dick’s ebullient appearance in this morning’s video conference certainly gave an indication that he was happy with their progress. This afternoon’s position report places them in ninth overall, one place behind Foncia. However, the weather models currently suggest that the boats on the far west of the fleet could reach the ice gate of Gough Island anything between a few hundred and 1,000 miles ahead of the current race leader, Estrella Damm.

“The ‘ghost’ mode is interesting because it means we can sail to our own strategy and the others are not influenced by our position. It’s a nice advantage to have," said Dick. “All is going well here and there are beautiful sailing conditions, I love sailing in the South Atlantic – I don’t know why, but it's a pretty serene ocean, and we’ve seen some extraordinary seascapes with the moon illuminating the whole night.

“We’re counting down to our arrival in the deep South. One day we’ll go from tropical conditions to polar cold, so we’re savouring the moments in t-shirts. Right now we are not far from the border between Argentina and Brazil, and as we sail close to these countries we’re starting to imagine good Argentinian steaks because freeze-dried food starts to get you down a bit.”

To gain the maximum advantage would depend on the westerly boats’ ability to steal a march on a fast moving low pressure system, while such a massive variation in predicted outcomes indicates that, when it comes to the South Atlantic, nothing is ever certain. The two French teams are currently enjoying a solid 15-20 knot northeasterly off the South American coast, which is anticipated to build to a stronger NNEerly flow as the low pressure zone picks up speed and travels south.

While Virbac Paprec 3 is also the fastest boat on the course, making 14.2 knots over the past hour, Spanish leaders Estrella Damm are suffering as the slowest boat on the track, averaging less than 3 knots. This has allowed the rest of the fleet to continue to attack Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes’ advantage on Estrella Damm, which is now less than 40 miles over second placed Groupe Bel, with Mirabaud just over 16 miles further back in third – a gain of 100 miles over the past 24 hours.

Pepe Ribes reported from Estrella Damm: “We knew the area of no wind was coming, we have done like 50 gybes tonight. What we didn’t have during the Doldrums, we have now. It’s absolutely dead. We shall see what’s going on today, and whether the people from the right take the advantage. Foncia and Mapfre are very well positioned, and of course there’s Virbac Paprec 3 in ghost mode. It depends on how long we stay stopped, the rankings may vary – we could still be becalmed for another 10 hours. Desjoyeaux is a master of strategy, as he’s showing once again. Right now he’s taking miles off us. We were all near the Brazilian coast and he’s the only one still there, so he’s far away but well positioned.

“The gate is still far away and those in the south have the advantage because they get the best of the low pressure. Being further south is the most important thing here. But it’s still 2,300 miles to the gate and anything can happen. We not even wearing T-shirts at the moment, but I’ve just prepared my bag with the cold weather clothing because next week we will see very drastic changes, we’ll go from 30 to 10 degrees temperature.”

In second place Kito De Pavant on Groupe Bel said: “The St Helena high is a bit tedious because there is no wind so it’s difficult to progress to the south. It’s the ‘second Doldrums’ for us, the weather is very fine but not fine for us. There is no rain, but we think there’s a small weather system coming where the wind may change a little bit, it could move away or ‘die’. So it’s just a rubbish bit we’re going to have to go through. We’ve had a lot of light winds between the Mediterranean from Barcelona, Madeira, Canaries and now the St Helena anticyclone so it’s starting to get a bit much.  I think Alex and Pepe are pretty much in the same sector as us, which is unfortunate for them because they had a big lead but they’re being gained on by everyone so it can’t be easy aboard Estrella Damm – or on Groupe Bel – because it's hard to see our friends from the west on our heels.

“Right now we are about 20 miles from the island of Martin Vaz. Gough Island is 40 degrees South, but it seems to get further and further away because every day it takes one more day to get there, but we must suffer this with patience and hopefully we’ll leave this bubble of no wind by finding a little strong easterly to get down into the South. Here, it looks like Lake Geneva, with just a minimum windspeed of 3 or 4 knots, so if we get up to 5 knots it’s a pleasure and really feels on the water! But the boat is still rather heavy, even Seb hasn’t managed to eat enough yet!”

Only Mapfre has avoided the compression zone by escaping to the west. Whether Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez have made a sufficiently radical or early move remains to be seen – certainly in today’s live video conference Iker admitted that after going into ‘stealth’ mode they had changed their minds and opted for more conservative tactics.

“We are sailing close hauled with little wind and the Code Zero," Martinez reported. "We started our ghost mode because we were thinking of going to the west and then when we saw the new weather we chickened out and went back east. We shall see in our group who escapes out of the calms first, the problems Virbac Paprec 3 and Foncia had with their stops in Brazil ended up favouring them with the forecast.

“We’ll be in trouble with our dietician - with the meals and drinks you never keep to their instructions as there is a lot of food and we wish we could get as rest as much as they keep telling us to! But these past few days we have been able to rest more. We have also had some problems with boils because of the heat and humidity! We aren’t having the best race in our lives, but it’s not too bad, and has only just started.

“We are worried about Foncia and Virbac Paprec 3 as in a few days they could be 500 or 1,000 miles ahead. But we should worry about ourselves as this is an important moment in the race. We always take all strategic decisions together, and whoever is on watch makes the decisions about sails etc. We make major decisions together because we don’t we want one of us to resent it.”

The increasingly compact easterly group also sees Neutrogena in fourth, while the all-female team of Dee Caffari (GBR) and Anna Corbella (ESP) on GAES Centros Auditivos now move into fifth place, one ahead of close rivals Renault Z.E. Sailing Team. Likewise, Hugo Boss, Central Lechera Asturiana and We Are Water find themselves in similar conditions and are working hard to maximise every opportunity to gain on the front group – whether they will be able to cling to the leaders closely enough to avoid being shut out of the south by an expanding high pressure zone later in the week is as yet in doubt.

"It’s a little hot, a little sweaty, but very happy here!" reported GAES' Dee Caffari. "The closest boat to us is Renault, and obviously we’ve always kept an eye on Neutrogena after we let them get away in the north Atlantic, and it’s been really good for us to see that we’re just doing the same speed if not a little bit faster. And we’ve been trying really hard NOT to look over our shoulders at Hugo Boss coming down on us, we’re trying to look forward!

“We’re enjoying the glorious sunshine while we’ve got it, because it will be short-lived. But the weather’s really complex in the South Atlantic so it’s going to be a really difficult week. This morning is lovely, the wind is decreasing – we’ve only got 8 knots and it’s a little up and down, but we’ve got really flat water which means we can open the hatches and actually get some air flow in the boat which is really nice. It’s blue sky and scorchio! We know the cold weather is coming but we can’t even think about it at the moment.

“This time in the South Atlantic, although it’s complex it will actually go quite quickly and we’ll be on that train going round the bottom pretty quick so it’s important we do as many checks as we can while conditions allow and make life easy. But we’re in pretty good shape on GAES so nothing’s too stressful.”

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