Indian Ocean turns favourable

Barcelona World Race fleet basking in big reaching conditions

Sunday February 6th 2011, Author: Andy Robertson, Location: none selected

From first to 12th, the Barcelona World Race fleet may now find itself spread almost from Australia’s Cape Leeuwin back to South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, but for the first time with all the fleet in the Indian Ocean, this Sunday finds the race fleet in favourable downwind or reaching conditions.

At last conditions are stamped with some of the south’s usual hallmarks: some desirable, some not so desirable. Of course such a stable Sunday is entirely transient and in different sections of the fleet already the prospects for change are looming.

Closing fast on the longitude of Cape Leeuwin, just over 1000 miles ahead of them this Sunday afternoon, Jean Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron have seen their lead grow by a further 45 miles since 0900 GMT this morning and now the French duo have more than 617 miles of a lead over second placed Mapfre.

Their passage up to the Cook Straits, 3300 miles ahead, looks like it might be blessed with a decent transition all the way up to New Zealand. Virbac Paprec 3 will pass ‘through’ the country where she was built, and was launched in May last year. Indeed it will be the first a kind of homecoming salute for no fewer than seven of the IMOCA Open 60 fleet racing which were built in New Zealand.

While there may be a certain satisfaction to be locked into the progression of the favourable systems, at the moment there seems to be little prospect for wholesale gains or losses. The key focus for many crews today was to enjoy the conditions and to focus on sailing their boat to maximum potential.

Almost exactly in the middle of the fleet are Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret, in sixth place with close to 1580 miles deficit on the leaders and a 1725 miles margin to 12th placed We Are Water. Veteran Wavre and Paret was finally rewarded with a dose of Southern Ocean surfing today, the fast conditions which have not so far been granted to the duo, who finished in third place in the first edition of the race.

They have been valiantly holding off Neutrogena, Ryan Breymaier and Boris Herrmann, but the American-German pairing had closed to within two miles of Mirabaud’s sixth place this afternoon.

Wavre reported: "There are wonderful surfs and then other more difficult moments because the sea is crossed and choppy. There’s wonderful swell, 3-4m high. The boat is nice to steer, but we have to manage our tiredness, because it is quite trying to steer in this wind. There are pleasurable moments and long nice surfs. On the GPS its 25 knots for the fastest surfs, but it is difficult to reach high speed averages. Steering with a wheel at the back is great. On the one hand there is not much protection so it’s difficult, but on the other hand it is the best vantage point to negotiate the waves. We will gybe at the end of the day or during the night to go up to the Amsterdam gate and after that I can’t say, but at present looking two days ahead seems more than enough. It’s an amazing fight, we communicate via email, we check our info together and it’s cool to have a boat close by, it’s motivating and stimulating at the same time. And Boris and Ryan are real nice guys so it’s really cool to have them close by! We saw them the day before yesterday, under spi, on a parallel course to ours. We are sleeping about 4 to 5 hours every 24 hours; it’s difficult to say really because it’s in bits and pieces, short naps here and there, in order not to leave the other one too many hours at the helm. Tomorrow should be a good day, but I am afraid that after that we will find light conditions.”

And with the respite in the weather, there comes the opportunity to simply default to enjoying the basic satisfaction of being outside and 100% in charge of making the boat go fast. For Pachi Rivero and Toño Piris that meant resting the autopilot and spending some quality hours on the helm of Renault ZE Sailing Team, enjoying the unexpected sunshine on their patch of the south Indian Ocean.

“It’s a fantastic day in the South,” remarked Piris who last raced in the Southern Ocean in 1997 on Chessie Racing in the Whitbread Round the World Race. "We have good speed with the big spi up and good waves and now Pachi is working at the helm. After such a long time reaching and with water pouring on the boat, during which the pilot was the boss, we now take advantage of the conditions to steer by hand as much as we can.

"We have gone more to the south to look for some more wind and we have found it. Now we have to study the next weather files because we are heading straight to the next gate and the strategy is to keep the boat numbers as high as possible. It is not very cold yet, at least not seriously cold; we are quite a bit north because of the new position of the gates. It’s a bit like spring, when you never know what to wear, because if you put on too many clothes you end up too warm when you are doing maneuvers, but if you put on too little you can get very cold.

"The books we will take out when the good weather comes, maybe when we go up the Atlantic again, at the moment there has really been no time. Between maneuvering and the routine maintenance work, when you have a moment you immediately try to rest and get some sleep. The music helps us to unwind: Coldplay, Sabina, U2, Coltrane…

"If you are have too big sails, and a big squall comes in, you can feel insecure because problems can appear quite suddenly, so yes you are scared, you are afraid of breaking and having to give up the game."

On tenth placed FMC, there is an interesting cultural mix, not just between the laconic Breton Ludovic Aglaor, an experienced co-skipper who sailed with Bruno Peyron on the Jules Verne Trophy aboard the Orange 2 maxi-catamaran, and the young Catalan Gérard Marín, but their different sailing culture so far has been from different ends of the spectrum – Aglaor on giant multis and Marín on 6.5m Minis. On the IMOCA Open 60s their cultures, experiences and backgrounds are blending to form a strengthening unit.

While Race HQ in Barcelona basked in warm sunshine, Aglaor was even satisfied to have some typically Breton weather: “We already had a lot of sunshine in the Atlantic, so personally I really looked forward to finding a French Brittany atmosphere once again! The more so because the sun with the depleted ozone layer is not so good: aggressive and a bit dangerous. Three or four days ago I was sailing with a naked torso and in the evening my back was a bit sunburned, and my skin is not particularly sensitive."

Quickest boat this evening is still Hugo Boss, Andy Meiklejohn and Wouter Verbraak, also satisfied this Sunday to have the powerful beast trucking fast on the heels of a proper southern ocean low, the native territory of the Juan Kouyoumdjian design. They are the only boat to have gained on the leaders over the last 24 hours.

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