Battening down hatches

Virbac-Paprec 3 expecting their first big Southern Ocean blow on Wednesday

Sunday January 30th 2011, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron will be paying little attention to the scrap over second place which is progressing nicely some 600 miles behind them when the Barcelona World Race fleet reaches one month, or 30 days at sea, tomorrow. Rather the leading duo admitted today that they are looking only forwards, setting up as well as possible for the very active depression, their first big storm in the Indian Ocean which they will encounter Wednesday.

They will scarcely have concerned themselves with the fact that Virbac-Paprec 3 has conceded 150 miles since yesterday to second placed Mapfre, and is now just less than 600 miles ahead of the Spanish duo. Sailing on the wind in around 25 knots of southeasterly breeze, the duo are expecting a calm spell Monday before the cyclonic system hits them on Wednesday.

The active depression will be producing very strong northerly winds just at the time they would arrive at the Crozet ice gate, if Virbac Paprec 3 followed the theoretical tracking.

Their options are to tough it out, which would not seem wise given their key priority is preservation of the boat and themselves, or to invest more in the north earlier, perhaps Tuesday night when they have good easterly breeze. They would be giving up miles down the course to the east, but they would effectively brake by sailing north to let the worst of the system pass in front of them.

In fact any miles they invest to do that would almost certainly be regained as they hitch a fast ride on the back of the system. But then their nemesis would become their saviour, in terms of lost miles, especially since the Amsterdam gate, the next ice barrier, is then further south at 46°, so would allow the leader a longer stretch south once they gybe. With the system moving at 40 to 50 knots or more, the timing of this approach is critical. An hour too late can be problematic, leading to much more than an hour of punishment!

Jean Pierre Dick: “With Loïck we are pretty much focused on the big depression, a bit worrying, which is coming from Madagascar. The depression is generated by the conflict of warm air from Madagascar and the cold polar air. It should hit us just at the time we are at the Crozet gate. There is a strong headwind expected in advance of and behind the front, 40-45 knots and big sea. It is a little bit dangerous, a proper storm. There are several possible scenarios for us to approach it, and we scour the models to see how they agree.

"Meanwhile Virbac-Paprec 3 is going well at up to 18 knots, upwind with 26 knots of wind. And so we can be inside for much of the time, not often needed to be on deck, so it is a bit like a Sunday. Tomorrow we have the calms from around six to seven in the morning and then the strong gales. Our outside pods allow us protection to steer sheltered from the elements, they hold the heat and keep the boat warm, a little greenhouse effect. Tomorrow it will be one month at sea and with Loïck we were accustomed to life at sea and have found our rhythm well. We sleep easily on board.”

Meanwhile the chasing pack of four boats have had a generally profitable weekend, enjoying periods of brisk speeds, strong winds and more challenging conditions. Estrella Damm’s Pepe Ribes reported racing last night in 40-45 knots, with three reefs in the main for the first time. But Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez have been the quickest, again, through Sunday averaging 19.4 knots to extent their lead on third placed Estrella Damm.

Looking down the ranking it is immediately apparent which sets of boats are riding the fast moving waves, the low pressure systems, and which are more wallowing in the troughs, some battling upwind in the high pressure systems. In general this pattern is set, galvanised by the ice gates, and there is little chance of breaking out of the systems. For the boats in the lower third of the fleet their options are not only limited, but quite unpleasant.

Hugo Boss’ Wouter Verbraak underlined again today that instead of the fast downwind sleigh rides what they are set to experience is 'not what the brochure promised’. "We are currently upwind and the routing says that 2,500 miles will be upwind and that’s like an Atlantic crossing. If you do the routing without the ice gates it shows us flying downwind as you would expect in the Southern Ocean, so the ice gates are definitely having a big impact.

"These boats are built for going downwind. Ours is perhaps one of the better for going upwind, but in fact it can be rather boring because there is a limit to what you can do. Upwind the pilot does better usually than handsteering, while downwind you would usually outperform the pilot and there are more sail changes to do, and so it probably not as exciting as the racing we were looking to do.”

Ready to enter the Indian Ocean for the first time, predicted to pass Cape of Good Hope later this evening, some 63 miles behind sixth placed Mirabaud, Ryan Breymaier, joined by videoconference today from Neutrogena, expressed his ongoing shock and dismay at the unacceptable amount of plastic waste they are encountering daily, all the way round the race course:

“But what really sets me off is not so much the fact that the planet is getting warmer, but that everywhere we sail we pass plastic floating in the water. Where we are in the ocean just now, every day we still pass some kind of crap floating in the water and it is terrible. There is so much plastic trash in the water, there is so much plastic fishing rope, so many plastic bags, plastic containers, jerry jugs, water bottles it is just absolutely everywhere. It is really, really disgusting. I have sailed across the Atlantic five times and the last trip back from Costa Rica was pretty bad with the plastic, but now crossing the Equator and down into the Southern Hemisphere, all along the periphery of the South Atlantic high it has been nothing but trash in the water constantly. That to me is much worse.”

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