Anxious at the front
Who, of those towards the back of the Barclelona World Race fleet would swap their unfortunate reality and certainty for the high stress and uncertainty which leaders Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron appeared to be facing over the next few days as they look set to deal with a difficult, active subtropical low pressure system?
Duos like Andy Meiklejohn and Wouter Verbraak on Hugo Boss and Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella on GAES Centros Auditivos are trying to come to terms with the weather cards they have been dealt, initially: a hand offering at least two or three days of upwind sailing and surely more.
In contrast, with a lead of 589 miles this afternoon over second placed Mapfre, Dick sounded slightly anxious this morning as he admitted they were still not clear on the timing of, or how they will deal with the muscular low pressure which is threatening them. He and co-skipper Peyron have been making optimal use of their time in slacker breezes, making just 12 knots this afternoon in light upwind conditions, by reviewing the weather files as they get them, preparing the boat, rig and equipment for the big blow and sleeping and eating as much as they can.
“Just now we will have calms then some wind today but on February 1st we will see quite a lot of wind," said Dick. "The conditions this morning are a little better than yesterday evening but it is a bit alarming because there is a lot of wind coming from the north. We have two objectives, to try and pass the Crozet gate and to then try and get down to the next gate without too much wind and seas which are not too extreme. We are spending a lot of time and energy trying to understand what will come down to us. It is a big depression coming down from Madagascar which comes with a warm tropical air which is mixed with the cold air. It looks malicious. We are trying to rest as much as possible and prepare the boat and gear for this big wind.
"Whatever, it is a sort of stress because we don’t know what will happen and we need to make somemanoeuvresin the big weather that will be stressful. The boats are really pushed in these conditions and at times like that we are’ sailing on eggs’. The Indian is quite wild and these are unstable winds and very active fronts. I hope that it all goes well. Compared to what we have been through (down here) before it is a bit different. We are more in the north, at 42 degrees, and the depressions we get will be strong with wild conditions. I believe the Indian Ocean is more challenging with very young depressions, with very aggressive with northerly winds or very strong from the south.”
For those who are getting used to the idea that their domain will be slamming upwind at an angle for days to come rather than surfing downwind, there is more to deal with mentally than simply considering how their endurance and patience will be tested.
For sure there will be also now be some bigger gaps in the fleet developing and overall duration of their race is likely to be greater than anticipated.
Ryan Breymaier and Boris Herrmann expressed a certain satisfaction in having got back to within 44 or so miles of sixth placed Mirabaud yesterday but they are snared this afternoon in calms which have seen them making less than a two knots average, losing 28 miles this afternoon alone. And Caffari confirmed that their aggregate losses could accumulate to five or six hundred miles.
Under such circumstances the duos solidarity as a unit will be tested, as will their discipline and humour. Hugo Boss’ Wouter ‘The Router’ Verbraak joked this morning that they simply discard the forecasts they don’t like the look of and resort to another cup of tea, before getting on with the job to the best of their ability: "The weather model this morning I have thrown in the rubbish bin. Oeverur philosophy in this race is that the glass is always half full, so when we get a bad weather model like this we just say that it never happened. We go have a cup of tea and hope it goes away. We need that kind of inspiration, those are great stories when you are a young fellow and that is what heroes are made out of, that what shows a lot of character. Mike showed a lot of character starting a week behind everybody having broken his mast, and came through and set a fast time. That is the kind of spirit we are trying to keep going. We have had some set backs, but we are just keeping on looking forward to the race continuing, us doing our jobs as best we can, and we will try and pull some places back. We promised Dee that we were coming to catch her two weeks ago, now we are going to make sure we keep that promise.”
While Caffari stated “Let’s put a reality check on this! We are in the Southern Ocean going upwind, it is just ridiculous. Burt we can’ stay miserable and we have to try remain positive because we have got like three days of this, and it would actually be easier to stop in South Africa and have a party and then go again when the weather is nice, so we really are looking for positives from this. But it sucks, I went the other way around the world and went upwind, now I am going this way and am upwind. Everyone promised it should be downwind. Something is seriously wrong. This not what we signed up for in the brochure for the Barcelona World Race.”
From second placed Mapfre, Iker Martinez compared previous life in these latitudes on the fully crewed Volvo Ocean Race with the different kind of stress and tiredness, racing as a duo for the first time on an IMOCA Open 60, which they seem to have adapted to well: "These boats anyway are designed for downwind, so they are rather uncomfortable, in fact to speak now I am wedged on the floor, it is uncomfortable and even dangerous. The Volvo is intense but over shorter periods. But the IMOCA can be slower and more difficult over short periods - during manoeuvres. We have no heating on board, a choice which seemed nice but we decided not to because of the fuel we would have needed. The way we sail is very different to the Volvo. The Volvo is a bit like being in the army with 10 guys. This is totally different with just the two of us, we sleep little but in the Volvo we sleep for longer periods. Here is it is 30 minutes, an hour maybe two."
From third placed Estrella Damm, Alex Pella commented:“ We are now sailing on starboard with little wind, about 8 knots from SW, heading 80 and doing 9-10 knots of boat speed. We spent the night with the genoa and with almost no wind. We believe that everyone in the group will be affected by this calm, but MAPFRE seems to have more wind up North so let’s see if it does not escape too far. Wind is heading and it seems we’ll sail upwind for a good while.
"It is sunny; we have about 13 degrees and lots of birds around. We have just seen a whale.
"The review of the first month is very positive. We are in the fight. We had very good moments. The Mediterranean went very well, we just had some bad luck after leaving it. The descent of the Azores high was very successful and the doldrums went perfect. When the two boats ahead stopped in Recife we became first. Then in the descent of the Atlantic we were not good, we made mistakes and we were stopped with a bit of bad luck and the fleet came on us. We took the brunt of the fleet in this option.
"Now after passing Agulhas we are fine but the places have been compressed. The boats are very engaged. We hope MAPFRE does not escape.
"In one month we have tried to minimize wear of the boat and ours: we are trying to stick with the watches and eat properly, we look after each other, the boat does not have any serious problems, only broke a wind wand and replaced it and the hydros are not charging much as we would like but they are all little things so for now everything is fine.
"I think we understood very well the race: It seems there is much ahead, maybe more than two months, and we are sailing calmer trying to ensure the material. We believe it is likely that there are more abandons and we will try to be among the boats to arrive to Barcelona.
"The worst moment was the passage of Santa Helena High, when we missed the front and the fleet came upon us. It was a difficult time for the moral, but it is past now.
And the best moments were undoubtedly passing through the Doldrums and getting first. On a personal level is now one of the best times to be in the Deep South for the first time. We're feeling very comfortable and I am loving it to sail here. It will be much longer than I thought because the ice gates have been moved far to the north and we’ll pass through many transitions, which will make the race much slower”