Pit lane to slip lane
From the pit lane to the slip lane… and into the fast lane. Having long left their pit stops behind, Foncia and Virbac Paprec 3 are not only accelerating out of the west section of the south Atlantic, but rapidly overtaking the competition in the Barcelona World Race fleet.
Still in pole position, Estrella Damm led the fleet south, having escaped from the light winds in the small hours of this morning. Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes are no doubt getting accustomed to looking in the rear-view mirror. After a sustained period of compression in the windless zone, which saw the leaders parked solid as the chasing pack reduced their lead, to within 30 miles for second-placed Groupe Bel this morning, the Spaniards must now watch for Michel Desjoyeaux and Francois Gabart’s rise up the rankings.
Foncia this afternoon is second, placed fewer than 20 miles from the leader. On the water the boats may be more than 500 miles apart, but Foncia and Virbac Paprec 3’s diversion into Recife has seen them re-enter the race track with a clear lane, heading south-east at speed.
From on board Foncia, Michel Desjoyeaux provided this update: “There is 20-25 knots currently and it’s beginning to shake on board. You know we’re used to houses, so life as a flat share is a new activity for this 2011 Foncia, but for the moment we are very happy. Francois is doing the washing up and I’m doing the cooking, and we take turns every day.
“I don’t have any news of the ‘Smurfs’, just what I can see from the rankings this morning. But it seems we are faster than them, they are behind us and the gap between us is growing a little bit.
“The pit stop was still a stop, so we’re not happy about having to do it, but it’s in the rules of the race that we can. Our team were super-dynamic. It was strange because we arrived at 0200hrs at the 20th floor of a building in Recife and we put our wet weather jackets in the swimming pool to wash the salt off – it looked more like a wild party than a race! Some say that sailing is not much of an adventure, but when my life turns out like this I know it is, and we experience plenty of things we couldn’t have imagined at the start.
“There is a real interaction between Francois and I. I can share my knowledge as I know the boat well, and I know the IMOCA 60 fleet better than him. Francois will have this boat after me, and he will be doing it all by himself in a few months, so it’s good that he has already practiced being at the helm and everything on board.”
Gabart added: “For the next 24 hours we’ll know which side our bread is buttered on – we are in front of the small low pressure and we’re hoping to get some high boat speeds, actually we are currently between 15-19 knots.
“Michel is the boss of the boat, it’s his boat but we are two on board and we are both responsible for the boat. What is interesting is that we have different way of thinking as we don’t have the same background so we can come together and take the best elements of each other. I’ll keep the Michel Desjoyeaux methods to myself for a few years, and if I talk about anything he does I won’t share anything important! Two days ago Michel showed me how to drop the gennaker in one go, so I did that myself yesterday.”
From Virbac-Paprec 3 Loïck Peyron reported: “It’s a little bit shakey, and there is a lot of wind. We are reaching and it’s a white-water ride. We’re currently between 16-18 knots. When we are working on the chart table one is lucky because he gets to sit down, and the other has to stand up and take care not to fall like a tightrope walker!”
He passing the phone to Jean-Pierre Dick, who added: “Speaking about the match against Foncia, it sounds good and it’s been a long time that we are very close together, although it’s true that Michel has a few lengths advantage on us, because he reached the area with a little more wind before us. Now it will be a long contest. We have to make as few errors as we can. The race will be won or lost on mistakes we do or don’t make. Loick is 100 % committed, we can’t ease off like we did at the start.”
The ‘laughing cow’ team on Groupe Bel remain on Estrella Damm’s tail, and have in fact continued to gained ground in the newly re-established breeze, now in third place. Virbac Paprec 3 now lie in fourth place, one ahead of Mirabaud.
Mapfre, which has taken a directly southerly line between the westerly duo and the main group, are currently in sixth place, but at 18 knots is matching Virbac Paprec 3’s speed and just a shade under Foncia’s 18.7 knots during the past hour, sailing in similar northeasterlies.
The forecast low pressure system looks set to bring continued northeasterly pressure for the westerly boats, likely to build to a strong northerly which will see them sailing a little high en route to Gough Island. For the easterly boats, more moderate easterly breezes are predicted, but the real trial will come as a large high pressure expands across the southern Atlantic, creating another parking lot and preventing access to the motorway of the deep south.
Adding to the headache for the skippers is the fact that the weather routing files are not yet conclusive – the only thing they seem to entirely agree on is that a South American pit stop turned out to be rather fortuitous for the westerly boats.
Alex Pella on Estrella Damm explained what had happened to them over the past 24 hours: “We started to pick up speed yesterday afternoon and it looks like we’ve left the calm. Right now we have winds of 90 degrees up to 18 knots speed, and we’re carrying full main and the solent. There are a few little waves – here, inside the boat the temperature has reached 26°C, and there is a bit of spray, so we're wearing our jackets again outside.
“This weather looks like it will continue for some time so we will have to study it very closely to decide our strategy, and if we should go further south or, conversely, to go east. This decision is getting a little more complicated. GRIB models we are showing different options and so we have to make a decision as soon as possible of what is right.
“So far we’ve sailed well, this was our goal, and we prepared for it. We continuing to keep up this pace and to be out in front is a pleasure, especially considering the level of talent that is in the race. Yesterday we were visited by some birds but we could not work out what they were – they didn’t seem to be very like seabirds. Perhaps they came by cargo ship or a cloud. But they took flight again once the boat began to pick up speed.”
From fifth placed Mirabaud, Dominique Wavre reported: “Since yesterday, we’ve found a couple of knots more wind, but we got stuck for two days before that. The exit from the Mediterranean was exhausting, ditto for the passage of Gibraltar and then, like the Doldrums, people were stopped dead for two and a half days thanks to the St Helena anticyclone. It's like the little twin brother of the Azores. For two days, we waited until it let us go. When there are scattered puffs of wind, we try to scrounge a few metres gain so it's physically demanding.
“Foncia and Virbac-Paprec had a big lead at the start. Their pitstop allowed them to take a very intelligent route to bypass the high pressure so they wasted no time.
“Michèle is in great shape, all tanned! She is about to grind up the mainsail! But this year is much more tiring than the previous edition, because it is more difficult to manage fatigue. We realise that it will become even harder in the cold days ahead. At 2,000 miles the first gate is looking pretty exciting, because the weather changes its mind every day. But I think Foncia and Virbac-Paprec will arrive before the low pressure.”
In order to avoid the hold up, the chasing boats are also experimenting with various routes to keep making gains to the south. GAES Centros Auditivos manoeuvred themselves further east in search of better breeze, and although they have overtaken Neutrogena into eighth, Renault Z.E. remain one place ahead in seventh. Hugo Boss, by contrast, has gone slightly to the west of the main group in their bid to continue to gain on the leaders.
Wouter Verbraak on Hugo Boss commented: “The next 5 days are looking pretty tricky, the St Helena high is pretty erratic in its movement so the weather models are not very much in line in what they think about the future. Short-term we are finally going into the transition that the other guys have been fighting for the last couple of days, and this afternoon we should be back in good winds so we’re looking forward to that.
“The stealth mode is an interesting card to play. So we haven’t had the opportunity yet to make a good use of it, but obviously for the guys who are making a westerly choice it was interesting. I think that it adds to the fun of the whole game really.
“We’re in a rhythm, I wouldn’t say it’s a watch system but we’re in a good rhythm, and more importantly we’re in a good vibe between the two of us. Yesterday in the light winds we’ve had a few talks about how we’re going to deal with the Southern Ocean, which is another four weeks of this race and very important. So I would say that mentally and physically we’re doing well, and as a team terrific, so we’re looking forward to catching up some miles in the Southern Ocean.
“Physically I’m pretty good. I think this race is more about the mental aspect more anything. Being a professional sailor I’m in good shape anyway so I’ve been ready to do this race for a long time, so it’s all good and since the Cape Verde Islands where we got the definite go-ahead mentally we’re rock-solid as well. So we’re in fit and fighting shape for the Southern Ocean!
“Obviously every time you go into the Southern Ocean you worry all the time about what part of the boat, or the human, are the elements going to find is not 100 per cent prepared for the race. So any weakness in our armour and the race will find it. So we’re worried and have to be on our toes all the time, to be ahead of the curve and find the little line that’s chafing or the generator that’s not running at 100 per cent before it becomes a problem.
“Toothpaste was the one thing that it wasn’t completely clear whose responsibility it was before the start, and we were a bit hectic there! We also have one razor blade each so we’ll see soon how that goes blunt, but otherwise we’re in good shape.
“The food situation is excellent, we’ve got some pretty good recipes here on the boat and we’ve got all different varieties of pre-packed food from different companies, and more importantly we managed to dig up some raw garlic yesterday so that’s added some flavour to the food and was a real treat for our pasta bolognaise yesterday.”
Andy Meiklejohn added: “We’re sailing a little bit upwind in about 10 knots. The boat is holding up well, we’ve got most of the repairs finished, and we’re sailing at full speed so it’s fine, it’s all about what’s happening outside the boat, that’s the big thing – clouds and wind and weather, so it’s about getting our head out of the boat and looking around.
“We should be seeing a little more breeze in about a day, maybe, with a little bit of reaching again. There’s still a bit more transition to go and then we should be reaching in some good breeze.
“Every time the fleet compresses it presents you with an opportunity so we’re just hoping we’re in the right position on the water to take those opportunities. We had some difficult conditions in the last day and a half and slowed down where others didn’t, but you can really only sail your own race.”
Follows a brief clip from Dee Caffari on board GAES: