Tiredness sets in
If there is one theme which has surfaced regularly so far in this second edition of the Barcelona World Race it is that there has been so few sustained periods of constant rate and rhythm. The trade winds from the Canaries to south of the Cape Verdes were more intense than usual, the South Atlantic was light, disorganised and at times chaotic and now the Indian Ocean is proving a challenging taskmaster all the way through the fleet.
The fleet’s most experienced circumnavigator Dominique Wavre, in sixth place on Mirabaud, not only reflected today that he feels more tired than during the first edition of the race at the same point, but that he sees little chance of a settled weather routine for their section of the fleet in coming days.
"I feel more tired than last time because of the weather pattern which is changing all the time and also the sea is very difficult. We have a different direction of waves and so at the moment the crew is a bit more tired it is quite a big difference to four years ago. The winds are unstable with gusts of 30 knots but lulls of 10 knots. We don’t stop pushing all the time, adjusting the ballast, the sails and the course, to keep our speed up. In these reaching conditions it is not easy for us because of the instability of the wind. The anticyclone is behind us and is going a bit quicker than us. We are trying to escape from it but it is gaining on us. We go from one anticyclone to the other. Usually you can go down south, you have more scope with the course and you can better set your course for the weather, but here with the weather everything feels wrong.
"The first month of food is finished and so we could move some bags and now have space on another bunk and so we are sleeping better. We are not suffering from the cold, but the boat is well insulated and we have good clothing. It is a bit cold on the hands in manoeuvres, but the temperatures are about right. In the next 24-36 hours the conditions will not improve. The wind will drop as the anticyclone catches us but surely not the waves. With the position of the gates I just don’t know when we will be able to surf and have downwind conditions.”
Mirabaud is under pressure on two counts. The young American-German duo Ryan Breymaier and Boris Herrmann are snapping at their heels on Neutrogena, as relative rookies perhaps unburdened by memories of the Indian Ocean of previous races. And the anticyclone which is chasing both Mirabaud and Neutrogena as they move east is producing especially unsettled conditions which is making trimming and holding a course in big, crossed seas, especially taxing.
There has been one constant recently and even that pattern is on the wane.
Since 21 January the lead of Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron on Virbac-Paprec 3 has been unchallenged, peaking at 746 miles. But their margin has progressively dropped, pressed by the hard driving peloton who are spurred by strong SSW’ly winds at the moment, making between 19 and 20 knots this afternoon compared to Virbac-Paprec 3’s 17-18 knots gained in 40-45 knot northwesterlies and difficult seas. But the weather advantage which seemed to favour the French duo across the west of the Indian Ocean may dissipate slightly as high pressure builds up to the southwest of Australia. It would not be unexpected to see Virbac Paprec 3’s lead halved from that peak delta over coming days.
After more than a month at sea, without doubt these changeable conditions do weigh heavily on skippers’ morale. Frustration manifests itself in different ways on the radio and video link-ups. Skippers speak of the desires to head south and pick up the fast moving lows that they remember from previous races, but these depressions are currently as far south as 50 deg and beyond and the safety chain of ice gates corral the fleet in the north. In such circumstances, when morale tips towards pessimism it is essential to fight
Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella have been occasionally been making light of the tough conditions they have had, battling upwind for three days into what latterly became potentially boat-breaking, huge, confused waves which GAES Centros Auditivos was dropping off, and crashing through. But the monotony and stress on the boat was taking its toll on the duo and the boat.
Since tacking south east last night they fleet’s only all girl team were making good progress, searching to the southeast for what promises to be some fast reaching conditions finally more commensurate with their expectations of the south. Caffari and Corbella sent a spectacular video this afternoon which graphically details their upwind battles in more than 30 knots of wind. And Hugo Boss, hard on the wind, had got to within 25 miles of the west end of the ice gate in very tough conditions.
This evening in the ‘red duel’ it is advantage Estrella Damm, as the Barcelona IMOCA Open 60 of Pepe Ribes and Alex Pella has opened up 12 miles over the course of the afternoon on their French rivals on Groupe Bel.
Co-skipper Ludovic Aglaor confirmed today that the choice of going into ghost mode on FMC was as much a bit of fun prompted by responses to his personal blog with which he stays in touch with friends and family at home in Lorient and around France.
And Central Lechera Asturiana are due to start their short Cape Town pit-stop this evening, ETA 2230 GMT.
From fifth placed Renault ZE Sailing Team, Toño Piris reported: “I think if your mind is set to a longer period then you just keep going and try to keep the same rhythm, but it is a shorter leg and you are about to finish and then it is different, but now I am feeling well physically, I am eating well. It makes a world of difference. I would not be doing it if someone like Pachi had not asked. He knows the class, the boats and how they behave.
“I think that the two guys who broke their masts it was a pity they have gone, but all the guys who are in front of us they are guys who have made a good preparation and are really good sailors. To be close to them in the leading pack, even at the back end of the leading pack is pretty nice. If we have options to stay in the same system as them, I am very happy with that.”