Virbac-Paprec 3 into Wellington
Virbac-Paprec 3, long-term leaders in the Barcelona World Race, are currently in dock in Wellington after yesterday evening’s surprise announcement that they would be stopping during the Cook Strait passage of the race to make key repairs. This followed their breaking two mainsail battens during their approach to New Zealand.
Shortly after arriving alongside the pontoons of Chaffers Marina this morning, Jean-Pierre Dick explained how they arrived at the decision: “We would have had to finish the whole half of the world tour without any spares on board. With such a weak piece that was too dangerous, because it’s dangerous to sail without these cars. So I decided to stop and get some new ones, this is the reason as it’s not acceptable to sail without any spares. We also suffered some other minor damage that we will repair such as to the bubble on the roof. We were not planning at all to stop, which is why I don’t have any of my shore crew.”
Each stopover past 140°E must be for a minimum period of 48 hours. As Virbac-Paprec 3 arrived on the dockside in Wellington at 2311 NZL local time (1011 GMT) they may not leave until 2311hrs (NZL) on Friday 18 February.
Dick explains the reason for their stop: “What has happened is that my mainsail track has some cars which are linked to the battens, and these receptacles that move on the mast are not very reliable pieces unfortunately. We discovered this – we thought they were strong enough but in fact they are not, and we broke two of them this morning, and we’d previously broken one. We had two spares, and we just needed two more which meant we would have had to finish the whole half of the world tour without any spares on board. With such a weak piece that was too dangerous, because it’s dangerous to sail without these cars. So I decided to stop and get some new ones, this is the reason I decided with Loick to stop as it’s not acceptable to sail without any spares.
“So we went through a few other little minor damages that we will repair - to the bubble on the roof. We were not planning at all to stop, which is why I don’t have any of my shore crew. We just have some good relationships that I know for a long time, particularly with Luc Bartissol who was the technical manager of Paprec-Virbac 2.
“Now, we will try to relax. Have some good sleep, a shower, a shave maybe. And then of course our priorities are what is happening on the boat.”
When he won the first Barcelona World Race in 2008 with Damian Foxall on Paprec-Virbac 2, Dick was one of only two entries not to stop in Wellington for repairs. So far just two teams have signalled their intentions to stopover in New Zealand this time – Virbac-Paprec 3 and Groupe Bel – however the potential benefits of 48-hours of repairs on land are making the decision hard for some skippers, as Alex Pella (ESP) of Estrella Damm explains: “All the boats have wear and tear, and you have to be able to assess whether it’s worthwhile stopping and lose 48 hours, or carry on and know you're a little more disadvantaged or could have more technical problems. The truth is that it is very interesting, and many people just cannot decide whether to stop or not. It’s going to be a bit like a pit-stop in Formula 1: who’ll get more fuel and who changes their tyres...”
Of their present situation Pella added: “Today we have been becalmed and have been busy almost all day with maintenance: we repaired two sails, stanchions, the pulpit, a winch... all day has been dedicated to the boat, and knowing that there will be calm means you have a little opportunity to make repairs. Especially with regard to sails – we spread two sails out on deck to work on, which is a luxury because you have plenty of space, whereas to do so inside the boat is very tricky.”
Meanwhile other boats have been looking to make the most of opportunities on the water. Mapfre has been chasing Virbac-Paprec 3 since the French duo took the lead on 23 January, an advantage which they extended as far as 781 miles on February 7, 2011. Her crew, Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez, have extricated themselves from a tricky high pressure zone around New Zealand’s South Island, and are currently making steady progress up the coast, 480 miles from Wellington.
Groupe Bel has gained 30 miles on third-placed Estrella Damm, which have tacked further offshore in search of for better pressure, and are now closer to Groupe Bel’s line, with the ‘laughing cow’ just 72 miles behind.
Meanwhile, Groupe Bel’s own planned stopover could present chances for Renault Z.E., currently 400 miles behind. Antonio Piris explained: “It’s been great for us [as fastest boat] because we were coming from a few days of probably being the slowest boat.
“I think it’s just down to meteorological considerations, so sometimes you can get pushed by the meteo, and sometimes you can get stopped. Right now the leaders are a little bit stuck in high pressure, so that’s why they’re slow. For a couple of days we’ve been a little bit more to the south of everyone and had a little bit more pressure, and that’s made us go fast. This ocean racing has some good days and some bad days and we’re happy to have had a couple of good ones.
“We are having a couple of issues here and we have to make the decision if we stop or not, I think we have to make the decision in the next couple of days. If we don’t stop of course of course there will be gains for us at the beginning, so that’s good for us. I think Bel had some problems with sails, and we’re okay with that.”
Mirabaud and Neutrogena retain their close connection: just 17 miles between the pair at this afternoon’s 1500 sched. The most rapid boat on the course is once again Hugo Boss, averaging 15.9 knots since this morning’s sched. Both Hugo Boss and GAES Centros Auditivos gybed this morning as they crossed a frontal system, with Andy Meiklejohn and Wouter Verbraak currently about to pass the East Australian gate.