Wellington pitstop for Groupe Bel?

As the backmarkers receive a pasting in the Barcelona World Race

Wednesday February 9th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

The leading group in the Barcelona World Race may be ready to reflect on their passage across an unusually lenient south Indian Ocean, but the tailenders have been dealing with a punishment which is more perhaps more typical of this area of the world's ocean.

The top five boats are already considering their routes up to Cook Strait which looks set to be influenced by the timing of a high pressure system which may favour the second and third placed Mapfre and Estrella Damm, but cost some miles to the leaders Virbac-Paprec 3, and possibly more for Groupe Bel and Renault ZE Sailing Team.

But while their problems, are largely mathematical – evaluating gains and losses, reducing risk and exposure, the three teams at the back of the fleet are experiencing the violent conditions generated by a strong low pressure system. For most of the Spanish crews this will be their first real experience of stormy conditions since passing into the Indian Ocean.

“The wind speed indicator does not drop below 45 knots and at the moment it is topping 53. In these conditions it is a real battle to get the mainsail down,” reported Gerard Marín from Fòrum Marítim Català.

For Kito De Pavant and Seb Audigane on Groupe Bel there is a dilemma: To pit-stop or not to pit-stop in Wellington? That is the question which they and their team are evaluating today after they revealed they have been sailing without two key sails – their big gennaker and heavy kite - for the last 29 days. The first was irrepairably damaged during a broach prior to them passing the Cape Verde islands. The kite was lost for similar reasons the following day. As a result when the wind is 18-25 knots, they don't have the correct sails.

"Although it has not always penalised us in the race, we have missed the large gennaker and the heavy spinnaker these last few days. It is important to explain why Groupe Bel is not at 100% of her potential to the people who are following her”, admitted de Pavant. “We have been sailing closehauled a lot, and we've been running downwind in either a very strong or weak wind, which enabled us to continue at a good pace. On the other hand, over the last few days, everything got back to normal with 20 knots of wind, and this is when we have really missed the gennaker. We are 20% below Groupe Bel's performance.”

From having been in sight of Estrella Damm over recent days Groupe Bel has steadily dropped back to be nearly 200 miles behind the third placed Spanish boat this evening.

So Groupe Bel is considering a technical stop, possibly in New Zealand. Unfortunately any pitstop after 140°E requires the boat in question to remain in port for a minimum of 48 hours. Teams can carry up to 10 officially measured sails which. Up to 60 percent of a damaged sail can be replaced.

“Today, there is nothing vital that requires us to stop” continued de Pavant. “We will make our decision as soon as we have a precise idea of the weather conditions around New Zealand, which may or may not favor a pitstop, and which might penalise us in relation to our competition. It is also possible that other crews are currently considering the same question. The race is far from over…”

Mirabaud skipper Dominique Wavre had some complaints today: "Every time when we have gone towards an ice gate we have been met with high pressure. We have managed to get away from Neutrogena and this time they are behind. Since the start we have arrived at the worse times, bad luck I suppose and the saving grace I suppose is that we have shared our bad luck with Neutrogena."

Wavre continued: "When we were north of Kerguelen I recalled being there after my keel problem in the last Vendée Globe, to bring the boat 2500 miles was really stressful and one of the worst memories of my life. But now the keel system is much more reliable and it feels so much safer to be racing with Michèle.”

The catch up continues for Estrella Damm. This afternoon just 13 miles separates them from second-placed Mapfre which has been consistently slower. Alex Pella explained: "We gybed before them and caught up a lot. The truth is that we are going super fast in the Indian Ocean. We have had almost four days with good winds, reaching and downwind in the right direction for eating miles. We spent nearly three days fighting with Groupe Bel and now we see stretching. We do our stuff and by now it is perfect. Pepe drives the boat very well and I really enjoy my watches as well. I hope it keeps like that for a long time!

"I think we will pass quite quickly the Australian barrier. After that, a front comes with a low, probably the strongest wind so far, but that will be in two or three days. At the moment I think the crossing of the barrier will be very clean.

"We are very excited. We are third and the boat is performing very well. We would have signed being across Cape Leeuwin in this situation. We will soon have a new opportunity to toast with beer, which will now be chillier. The waves are large and crossed. We used to have the wind on the side and the wave n the back and now downwind and wave at the side. Recently the sky was gray and it rained a little, but now it’s been cleared and it’s a beautiful day in the Indian.

"It would be nice to get second, but we have not done even half the race and we must keep our feet on the ground. What is important is that we are good and the boat as well and we are eating and resting well in order to keep moving forward."

Meanwhile Hugo Boss has further reduced their deficit on GAES Centros Auditivos to 17 miles. They remain around one knot quicker.

Hugo Boss' Andy Meiklejohn reported: "We are fast reaching, surfing safari Southern Ocean style. It is fast reaching, very wet, the boat accelerates quickly to 25-26 knots. The cloud cover is cleared and we have blue skies and sunshine, water is 17 degrees. It is really enjoyable hand steering in the waves trying to maximise every mile we have.

"It is hard to stay on top of time of day when you are moving so far east, but we try to make it work by always having breakfast when the sun rises and then go from there.

"We have had an amazing couple of days, really fun to properly race the boat always looking for the protection and finding a nice balance. One thing we have learned is that there are more gears on this boat, some daggerboard, sails, and we have been really creative in finding new gears, and being fast. The weather has helped and that has helped us catch, but even now we are getting closer and we are still catching. It is looking good. Rumour has it the girls have some nice red wine and toast so we can really close and get a nice platter from them.!”


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