Elastic contracts again

As Virbac-Paprec 3 heads north to comply with waypoint gate in the Barcelona World Race

Tuesday February 8th 2011, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

As Virbac Paprec 3 crossed the longitude of Cape Leeuwin this morning at around 1010 GMT, the leading French pair were moving at more modest speeds seeing their record lead ebbing again as the chasing trio catch up steadily.

For Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron they are at the mercy of more benign conditions as they transit the second Australian safety barrier, allowing the pursuing trio of Mapfre, Estrella Damm and Groupe Bel to regain 100 miles. The latter group are still in the strong winds generated by a low pressure system while the leaders, pressed north to comply with the safety gate, find themselves flirting with the vagaries of the high pressure system above them stationed in the Australian Bight.

Whether these losses will increase or decrease in the Tasman Sea and across to New Zealand seems to be the big question of the moment. The weather situation changes almost daily as the different winds meet - the overheated air masses from Australia’s deserts, and the cold polar air which rushes up from the south.

One current weather model certainly paints a difficult scenario for Virbac-Paprec 3, where she may be forced to stay south as long as possible as the high moves east with them, in which case there may be an opportunity for the chasing trio to sail a much more direct route and regain yet more ground.

But the forecasts are a moveable feast and contrast with what leading skippers Dick and Peyron suggest they are looking forward to.

Loick Peyron: “There was not even the time to check on the passing at Leeuwin. There are always so many things to do on board, cleaning, fixing, drying things, we checked things around the boat and have a nap and that is all part of the general organization. I was considering when to shave my beard. I’m looking a bit like Father Christmas. Jean Pierre’s is a bit more random, like an ibex. It is not so very fast at the moment, but the conditions are due to get windier. There will lots of things to do and be ready with for sail changes. The conditions we expect will be quite tough. We are looking forward to the passage of the Cook Strait, but before that you never really can be sure what will happen. But being at the front does not really influence how we sail. We are a little more careful and conservative in the manoeuvres. On the other hand we push hard all the time but slow down when we feel we have to.”

Dick looked forward to Cook Strait. Among the leading four boats he is the only crewman to have raced through them before when he last sailed in the Barcelona World Race. “The Cook Strait is always a piece of magic at the end of a month and a half at sea," recounted Dick. "You are dirty and missing lots of things and you pass through the strait in New Zealand where life is cool. There are high speed motor boats which pass you and the fact that you are just passing through is always a bit of a wrench. To see people, human life beside you is rather magical. With the mountains it is magnificent, majestic, really impressive. But then you have to plunge into the Pacific. It is a very unique moment though, but also it can be quite violent. But it should be moderate, passing through in the middle of summer and so it should be a bit less risky.”

Among the chasing group on Estrella Damm, Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes push second placed Mapfre relentlessly, and are now within 23 miles of the Spanish Olympic medalists, who were the quickest in this afternoon’s sched.

After close to 40 days at sea there is a certain core race fitness and sharpness which starts to be called on, a stamina which is maintained now by careful management. For the likes of veteran Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret, it is almost built in as it is for Dee Caffari who is now on her fourth lap of the planet.

“40 days is like ten days is like 20 days, is like 60 days. None of it feels any different," admitted Caffari. "We live in our own little world. But two days ago we had a problem with our sleep. It is not dark for very long. It is daylight until after midnight and we got out of synch with our sleep patterns a little bit. But we are good and feeling pretty good now.”

This has had to be learned progressively by the young IMOCA 60 rookies Ryan Breymaier and Boris Herrmann on Neutrogena. Breymaier admitted today that they have modified their ideas about simply trying to put up the biggest sails for as long as they could hang on to them, and now – rested and revived after a few intense days of fast sailing and repairs – the duo are sticking hard to the wake of Wavre and Paret’s Mirabaud.

“We are definitely feeling better these days. We have got all the work done on the boat and got over all the problems we had on the boat recently and we have been sleeping rather than gluing things back together or driving the boat, while the other glues things back together. And that has a positive impact on us. We are thinking more clearly, making smarter decisions, and sailing faster. I feel stronger all the time, I feel like I don’t really need to weigh as much as I sometimes do and all the work we do has certainly improved my fitness.”

For the trio at the rear of the fleet, the next few days will be their most challenging of the race yet, one offering big opportunities in a fast moving low pressure system which will start by giving them some very difficult conditions - for many of them their first big south Indian Ocean blow, as We Are Water’s Jaume Mumbru explained: “We have a monster behind which will reach us tonight. We expect 60 knots winds and eight metres waves. The wind will be polar, very cold, and the water like ice. We are preparing all out safety gear, harnesses, we hope to be ready to ride out the storm. We hope this powerful westerly wind will give us the chance to make some inroads and make some good runs. We have to be on high alert and monitor the changes all the time...”

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