Of the Barcelona World Race leader, Estrella Damm’s Pepe Ribes smiled, but was unequivocal: "The last time we saw them was in the Straitsof Gibraltar, we are not worried about them. Virbac-Paprec 3 is a fast boat with two incredible sailors on board and they are 700 miles ahead, they are not in our race at the moment. Our race is with Groupe Bel and Mapfre and Renault, that is our race at the moment.”
For the moment, approaching the longitude of Australia’s Cape Leeuwin, Virbac-Paprec 3 are runaways, Jean Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron today extending their lead to the biggest margin yet of this Barcelona World Race, some 773 miles this afternoon. Dick and Peyron continue to return the best speeds of the top four teams, but are now in a league of their own.
Their most regular pursuers, the 2004 Olympic champions on Mapfre, have had a torrid 48 hours. Yesterday they struggled with a communication issue which meant they missed vital information. Sounding tired, but resolute Martinez admitted they had a problem with a sail, but most of all it was the very variable wind and sea conditions which had brought them most grief: "We reached this zone that was very changeable. The northerly wind was very strong. We were always going a little quicker than the front which was going in the same direction as us. There were days when it was quite violent and we were a bit concerned for us and the boat. We slowed, we accelerated but in the end we just did what we could to manage as well as we could. What was very difficult was having waves from the north and from the south. When you are in a system like that you can only do what you can do, making the best of it, but it is not good. We have had some small problems, one sail. With the conditions we had it would have been easy to break something in a squall or the big seas. But we are generally happy, we have tried to tidy up a little. The race goes on and we are happy to be in second, but the most important thing is to be in the game, but really the placing does not matter so much just now.”
As a result Mapfre has lost miles to their nearest rivals, compatriots Estrella Damm who were just 35 miles behind this afternoon. From the red boat Pepe Ribes reported: “It’s a great day. Sunny, clear, sailing downwind. We are the ones most southern of the three of us and we are going a little faster. Now we are waiting for the wind shift in the next six hours to gybe at the layline to the Australian barrier. If we get the shift before Groupe Bel and Mapfre maybe we can cut some more. The wind will increase and we will go reaching or almost with around 25-30 knots towards the Australian barrier.
"We wanted the most southerly position as possible. We have been taking miles from Mapfre and stretching ahead from Groupe Bel. When we gybe we will all go on a straight line towards the Australian barrier and it will be difficult to have big differences. Right now the approach to the barrier looks quite good because surely we will go reaching. Now we also have an eye on how to get to New Zealand later, to the Cook Strait.
"We are enjoying this a lot. Before thinking about Virbac-Paprec 3 we have Mapfre as our main goal. We always attack, day or night. We do not step back not even to pick up momentum. In the Santa Helena high pressure Mapfre gained hundreds of miles on us. Now we have recovered 300. Let’s see if we can sail close to them and check that the boat is fast compared to them under the same weather conditions. So far we believe that the Mapfre is faster.
"We are well physically, but we feel the 37 days of racing. Sometimes painful arms, legs ... I have enough hits and some injuries because of the latex from the foul weather gear, but now they are drying since it’s a nice day. Of course, we are better than expected at this point.
We are sailing in latitudes where I've never been because of the security gates, but there’s nothing to say, because the Race direction has done the right thing by keeping the fleet out of ice, and the race remains extremely competitive, with the difference we are more calm and secure. At the moment we have only been three times on the course of an iceberg. If there were no gates, it would had been fifty times, which means more risk.”
In their wake Kito de Pavant on Groupe Bel remarked that life was good with his co-skipper at 46°57S which were looked more winter Mediterranean than south Indian Ocean summer.
De Pavant reported today: "We had hoped to have more wind than our rivals here but it has weakened a bit and we had one quiet night, that was a bit of a surprise. But there is some wind forecast up to New Zealand, in any case that is what we are hoping for. Yesterday was an exceptional day, one from the Mediterranean, with plenty of sun. But the weather is chilly and so we are still quite well wrapped up. Today it is more overcast but the weather is not bad. Yesterday the wind changes completely. We were reaching, then it shifted and went west so we could get the downwind sails up.
"The spare halyard looked to be jammed so I went up the mast to see what was going on but it was okay and I was up there for nothing, so I took the chance to check the rig and it was all okay. But I did not hang about there for long, 30 minutes up in cross seas, on your own it is different and you have to use the mountaineering gear, but here Seb just winched me up.
"We are at 46°36S. The water is 10°C and yesterday is was 16°C, it changes quickly and it is starting to get a little bit cold, but we have good kit and so it is not too bad. We are a bit disappointed to have lost so many miles to Estrella Damm, we are maybe a bit cautious at the moment but it’s a long course.”
Despite the inclusion of mandatory ice-gates into the course, several crew report they are on the alert for ice. From Estrella Damm Pepe Ribes said: "We have not seen icebergs, but according to the report that we received yesterday tomorrow around dawn we will have an iceberg right in our path. We will have to keep a very close eye on the radar and the water temperature. Luckily we are at 47°S where there are only five hours of night and the rest is not fully dark so you can see well.”
And in seventh place at 45°S, but 1200 miles west, back up the race track from Estrella Damm, Neutrogena's Ryan Breymaier confirmed they have also redoubled their ice watch. "We are passing within 20 miles of an iceberg position on our charts, and I am looking out the front every 10 minutes in the hope that I see nothing. It is nervewracking, because if there is one big one that the satellites can see, normally that means growlers, small pieces broken off the big one in a larger area. As I type we just hit 25.7 knots. At that speed a piece of ice the size of a car would destroy the front of the boat to the point we would have to get off it and let it sink. The satellite only sees things bigger than 150 yards. If we hit that it would be like irresistible force meets (definitely) immovable object.”
The elastic which has joined sixth placed Mirabaud and Neutrogena was stretching again today as the Swiss-French duo Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret put on a speed spurt to accelerate away from their long time companions. The American-German pair got close, tantalisingly close this morning - just three miles behind, but Wavre and Paret struck out at a sizzling 22.4 knots this afternoon, quickest in the fleet and had already earned another 10 miles on their pursuers.