Decision time in the Barcelona World Race
It’s decision-making time for the boats at the front of the Barcelona World Race fleet. With the Indian Ocean safely navigated for the front-runners, the Cook Strait could prove more than just a spectacular backdrop to the next waypoint, but an opportunity for further position changes.
For race leaders Virbac-Paprec 3, the initial decisions on how to approach the waypoint have largely been made. Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron (FRA) opted for a northerly route yesterday which has today set them on a direct course to the Straits between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Although conditions look likely to become trickier as they approach the coast, for now the duo continue at 13-14 knot averages, and are expected to reach Cook Strait some time on Wednesday mid-morning.
Loick Peyron commented: “It’s been exciting to date. From the start we’ve had an interesting fight with everyone, and especially with our late friends Foncia. It feels a bit lonely since they left off South Africa. It was an amazing fight but we’re pretty well versed in those kind of situations and were able to control the fleet from the start: maximizing the boat’s possibilities in terms of speed and trajectory and getting the record over 24 hours.
“Everything is fine on board although there are a lot of tinkering but that's normal as sailing is a mechanical sport. It's pretty physical, we are removal men, electricians, plumbers, everything like MacGyver in fact. But we are delighted that finally that the mileage counter has been reversed and is started to decrease.
“We’re here on February 15, and it looks like we still have 365 miles until the entrance of Cook Strait. We will take at least 24 hours to get there and as we close in against the prevailing winds things will get a little complicated.”
Tactically, the biggest dilemmas are for Mapfre in second and Estrella Damm in third. With a high pressure system spreading across the Tasman Sea, the decision of whether to go north or south of it, and when to go, will be critical for both. Finding themselves in the centre will obviously involve a period of light winds, although if the high is tracking east quickly enough that pain could be short lived. Erring to the southeast could bring later pain with some a beat up the coast of New Zealand, while taking a more northwesterly route would depend on critical timing to catch new breeze from the west.
From Mapfre, Iker Martinez said: “Here we go, little by little towards New Zealand. These past 45 days of the race have flown by, we’re really enjoying it but the truth is that there is still a lot of racing to go. It was difficult at first with all the stress of the start and how hard it was out of the Mediterranean, but once in the Atlantic we were picking up the pace and now we want to be more careful because we’re still pretty tight for places.
“The way we see it’s quite complicated, and we are now trying to make a decision looking at the weather reports, and they don’t look too good, there is an anticyclone with very little wind. The past few days we caught back some distance from Estrella Damm which is our most direct rival, but there are tough choices to make in the coming days.”
Martinez joked that maybe Mapfre should ask online race followers for their advice, “Ask the internet fans what they think we should do… “Should we go East or head upwards? I’m sure they’ll know what to do! We could ask 100 of them and they we’ll go with the majority!"
From Estrella Damm, Pepe Ribes said: “The last 45 days of the Barcelona World Race have been quite good for Alex and myself, and not just for us but for the team we have behind us. For me the race has been very demanding, and the level of the race has been very high, and all the boats have been pushing very hard. It's been quite difficult to keep the pace if you're not at 100 per cent, which is what was happening for us over the last 48 hours when we had some little problems. We couldn't keep the pace of Mapfre because they are pushing 100 per cent.
“The Mediterranean was really good for us, we went well and made good decisions. The Atlantic was also really good for us, we were leading for a week or 10 days - I don't remember exactly! And the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean was at the beginning very mild, but the last week we've been having proper Southern Ocean conditions – not really, really hard but quite hard, and now the wind is going down to 20-25 knots. But the level of the race has been really high and very impressive for me, I wasn't expecting such a race at the moment.”
Groupe Bel, 200 miles behind Estrella Damm in fourth place, look set to follow Virbac-Paprec 3’s line as they crossed into the Pacific this afternoon. And with the leading group potentially slowing, there remain opportunities for mileage gains for the boats behind.
Renault Z.E. in seventh has earned their crown as fastest boat on the course for the second successive five-hourly update, hitting 17.1 knots at 1500 today - the same pace as GAES Centros Auditivos in ninth, whose all-female crew shared a Valentine’s Day message with the fleet today. One place ahead, Hugo Boss retained the fastest averages of the past 24 hours, covering over 380 miles.
Mirabaud and Neutrogena remain locked in battle for sixth, with Boris Herrmann and Ryan Breymaier halving the Swiss skipper’s advantage over the past 24 hours to just 14 miles.
Meanwhile for the rear group another high pressure system is presenting further problems as it stretches across the path of 13th placed Central Lechera Asturiana, while We Are Water has headed north in a bid to find better long-term pressure. Forum Maritim Catala in 10th were this afternoon just a whisker away from the Amsterdam ice gate.
Halfway still to go
In the 2007 edition of the Barcelona World Race, winners Paprec-Virbac 2 led the fleet through the Cook Strait after 44 days and 32 minutes of racing. With 45 long days at sea already under their belts, in today’s special video conference with Pere Alcober, president of the Fundació Navegació Oceànica Barcelona, the skippers reflected on the need to keep their boats together.
Pepe Ribes revealed that Estrella Damm’s hydrogenerators had been causing problems, while, as Loick Peyron suggests above, even Virbac Paprec 3 has been in need of some minor adjustments.
Kito de Pavant, who announced a scheduled stop in Wellington for Groupe Bel to repair sail damage, has also be planning to make the most of the 48-hour pit-stop, reporting: “It will also be an opportunity to carry out a full check-up, and do some small jobs, particularly the hydrogenerator's bracket which is in a fairly bad way. We are updating the ‘job list’.”