Tailwinds on the Périphérique
Three weeks since they set off, the Barcelona World Race fleet has taken a new shape. Yesterday evening Foncia surged into first place, and this morning Virbac Paprec 3 joined them at the head of the race in second place.
Together the pair, which each stopped in Recife, Brazil have maintained a samba pace since leaving the South American coast. Today they have been enjoying a fast ride on their journey back from the western frontiers of the course, both averaging over 20 knots of boat speed in solid northerlies. In the past 24 hours the French duo covered over 400 miles – on average 150 miles more than the boats on the east of the course.
Michel Desjoyeaux and François Gabart were first to reclaim their place at the front of the leaderboard, arriving in first place yesterday evening ahead of Estrella Damm, who had led the fleet for the previous six days. Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes exited the light winds zone yesterday, but in moderate easterly breezes their speed has leveled out at around 11 knots. This has allowed the other western rebels on Virbac Paprec 3, riding ahead of the same low pressure system as Foncia, through into second place overall this morning.
Michel Desjoyeaux provided his update from Foncia: "What will happen in the coming days, I do not know. The meteorologist on board is currently only interested in making a snack! We are pursued by a small depression, if it goes fast enough it will take us at least until Gough Island and we will be first through the door to the Atlantic, but before that there is a little uncertainty, so for the moment we’re going full speed with these conditions.
“We are sailing with two digits of boat speed and the first digit is a ‘two’ so it’s good news, but on board it is a little shaky. Fortunately we’re under the coach roof so we can be protected. With the weather that is set to arrive it’s better to be in front because you have more options. Sometimes there are big waves over the deck so to go for a wander outsider you need some good wet weather gear. We’re going very fast at 20 knots of speed so it’s normal that it’s so wet outside!
“I think this boat is less comfortable than the boat I had two years ago because the volume is more generous and there is less at the front so the waves come over. But at this rate we are faster than the former version, which is now MAPFRE. If you look at the speeds that Xabi and Iker are getting to stay near us, they’re sailing MAPFRE really well. Had those two not been caught in the windless patch, they would be serious contenders!”
Pepe Ribes from Estrella Damm added: “Right now we have some steady wind of about 15-20 knots, an east-north-east direction, at about 90 degrees. We’re going well, but later the situation will get a bit complicated. We are sailing as hard as we can, it will be very exciting because we are all going to arrive in the south all together. We are going at maximum pace – we don’t have a middle option.
“Foncia are the best. We were lucky to sail close to them in the Mediterranean and I have to say we were very impressed with Foncia. The always choose the best option. Desjoyeaux is an exceptional sailor. In about six days we’ll be at Gough Island, at 42 degrees latitude. But before we get south into more wind, we’ll have to gybe and head up. We are really looking forward to picking up the pace, because these calms have been really long for us. After that we had some rain showers and it has also been hard to deal with everything. We are looking for a change because our boils are getting infected and we smell pretty bad. At least with the winter weather we’ll put some more clothes on and won’t smell so much!”
In fourth place Kito de Pavant and Sebastien Audigane on Groupe Bel have stuck close to Estrella Damm. However, the next potential threat to the status quo could come from Mapfre, which also struck out on an independent course and are currently the most westerly boat on the track in fifth. Some 200 miles further north than Virbac Paprec 3, the 49er pairing of Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez don’t have quite the same white-knuckle conditions as the new leaders, but at the edge of the low pressure system they are still making 16 knots average speed and may well be able to maintain this momentum into third place.
Although the low pressure system seems to be moving more rapidly south-east than previously predicted, if the westerly boats are able to stay ahead of the front their advantage will continue to extend to Gough Island, with the first boat likely to reach this remote Atlantic waypoint on Sunday. Meanwhile, with two high pressure zones set to merge across the southern Atlantic over the next two days, the boats on the easterly side of the track will need to find a route south if they are to remain in contention.
Iker Martinez from Mapfre said: “Hello to everyone, we’re now heading south. We just crossed the St Helena high pressure, that was pretty difficult. It was big, huge! So we had little wind and it was very shifty, so all of us were just fighting to cross that. We are a little bit more west than most of the guys, so we’re all good in the centre. The other two guys, the French boats went even more west than us and they were crossing better, so now we have more wind which is good. We’ve been sailing with almost 20 knots, 18 knots that was great after being just floating for a couple of days.
“Now we’re heading for the first ice gate so in two or three days it’s going to get cold, it’s going to be very windy and we’ll be in the Southern Ocean. So we’re really looking forward to that and at the same time it’s looking at the boats in front to try to make sure they don’t get too far away when we’ll be in the Forties. Everything’s going well on board, we’re great and the boat is 100 per cent which is good. We’ve already been sailing for 22 days so to have the boat 100 per cent is difficult at this stage of the boat, so we realise we’re good shape, we’re enjoying it a lot, we’re very happy.”
Seventh-placed Renault Z.E. and Neutrogena in eighth have pulled away from GAES Centros Auditivos over the course of the day by maintaining a steady 11-12 knots. Meanwhile Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella on GAES Centros Auditivos have once again been lassoed by a light winds zone, with their average speed dropping to under 5 knots this afternoon.
Hugo Boss is now in fact more southerly than GAES, but at just over 100 miles further west is still ranked one place behind them in 10th. Behind them Central Lechera Asturiana and We Are Water have each held their easterly line, with Forum Maritim Catala in 13th, now some 630 miles behind the first boat.
There was news too of the 14th boat to start the race, as Bruno Garcia and Jean Le Cam of the dismasted Président paid a visit to Barcelona World Race headquarters and spoke to some of the competing skippers in this morning’s live video conference.