To stop or not to stop?
...that is definitely the question for the 20 sailors in the Barcelona World Race yet to announce whether they will make a pitstop in Wellington. The next 24 hours could prove key as some long-held positions go up for grabs, and with more teams potentially considering a stopover the rankings could see further reshuffles in future.
One of the Barcelona World Race’s unique elements – the fact that teams may make technical ‘pit-stops’ to repair damage in order to be able to complete the course – looks set to create an interesting tactical challenge for the 10 teams who have yet to decide whether to pull into Wellington.
On the one hand is the benefit of being able to make essential repairs to potentially race-ending problems with sails, electronics, or other elements of the yacht, allowing the teams to safely resume racing at 100 per cent pace. Countering that is the fact that every boat which stops after 140°E must observe a compulsory time penalty of 48 hours on land, potentially jeopardising hard-earned miles of advantage over their rivals. And of course, while 48 hours may not prove a winning margin at this stage at the race, no skipper can predict what will happen over the remaining 11,500 miles of the course after Wellington.
As Iker Martinez on Mapfre explained this morning: “We would rather be third or fourth without stopping, than second with stopping. But we have not yet made a decision. It is difficult because logic tells us that we should stop for safety and performance, but we would prefer not to. At this point all the boats are damaged - that’s no secret - but we'll see what we do. Tomorrow we will decide. It depends on several aspects, the most important one being to think about what's will get us to the finish faster? Right now, it seems that we’re more likely to arrive in Barcelona earlier if we stop. But countering that is the fact that we don’t know what will happen in the future and how a 48-hour stop would affect that.”
“Everything is going well, we had a good route through the anticyclone and now we have another slow down because there is not much wind.
“The worst bit of the race so far was damaging a sail, as picking it back up was difficult and dangerous. We were a little afraid that something could happen to one of to us. But there are a lot of positives. We're having a great time, learning a lot, we are well and every day we're doing better.”
In order to prevent teams from planning stopovers as a race strategy, there are strict rules on what work may and may not be carried out during the pit-stops – for example, the boats may not replace their sails, or intentionally start the race with limited provisions to reduce weight. Groupe Bel was the first to announce their intention to stop in New Zealand, having suffered damage to two headsails which they will be repairing on land.
Kito de Pavant reported: “The temperatures are getting better. It is much warmer, we’ve gained almost 10°C in three days. We’re still lacking a bit of sun and good weather to make it more like summer, but we’ve taken off some layers of fleece and after three days we’re getting warmer inside the boat. It's dry too. At 50°S it was pretty cold that's true, but then that's the Southern Hemisphere summer here. I realised one thing – it had been a week since I had seen a star. I saw a full moon like an egg yesterday. I was the first one to be surprised by what the clouds had been hiding.
“Estrella Damm have had a difficult 24 hours. We were about 10 miles away from them at the latest rankings. We are happy to be back near their position as we spent much time together since leaving Barcelona. It's nice to catch them up, even if this does not mean much. They sailed very well so far. They did not have good timing with the anticyclone, but we made a good move by creeping between the high and low pressure zones.
“There will be a new start in Wellington and it's going to be fun to race. [What is allowed at stopovers?] We’re going to request permission to drink some beer, and we’ll enjoy it! We have an obligation to stay in port for at least 48 hours so we’ll have a chance to tinker a lot on the boat. We get to change just about everything except the sails. I was among the first to argue against allowing the boats to take a stock of new sails to Wellington. But I would have done better to keep silent because of what happened to us!
“The great unknown for our arrival in Wellington is the wind, which is not very consistent with what the weather was expected to bring us. We think we will get there on Saturday night or Sunday morning or in between. It is not very precise. And in the far north of Cook Strait it will not be very windy and there will also be a current as it is tidal.”
Hugo Boss’s main concern
Whilst no boat has yet to confirm whether they will – or will not – be stopping in Wellington, the Hugo Boss team announced that the IMOCA 60 suffered damage to its main track which has left Andy Meiklejohn and Wouter Verbraak unable to hoist the sail to its full height for three weeks. Around half a metre of main track, which the mainsail is hoisted up the mast along, was ripped away on 28 January. While the boat will sail reefed to deliberately reduce the mainsail size in strong winds, in lighter airs the loss of sail area at the top of the mast will be a serious handicap to Hugo Boss.
Today’s announcement from the team states that the co-skippers are hopeful of being able to make a repair without stopping, but they have dispatched a shore team, including original race skipper Alex Thomson (GBR), to Wellington, just in case…
Minutes in it
There have already been notable changes on today’s leaderboard, with Groupe Bel overtaking Estrella Damm this afternoon to move into third. Kito de Pavant and Sébastien Audigane are on a more direct course towards Cook Strait, while Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes have tacked further offshore in search of a better angle – after 48 days and over 15,000 miles of ocean racing, the pair crossed tacks just 45 minutes apart.
The next boat to reach New Zealand will be Mapfre, expected at the entrance to Cook Strait in the early hours of the morning (GMT) on Saturday – while Virbac Paprec 3’s 48-hour time penalty will be completed at 1011hrs (GMT).
The other team to celebrate a rise in the rankings is Neutrogena, who have overhauled Mirabaud after a long-standing contest for sixth place which has seen the two teams locked together on a near parallel course since before the Cape of Good Hope, sometimes as little as two miles apart. Boris Herrmann and Ryan Breymaier overtook Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret this morning, and had extended to 16 miles ahead by today’s 1500 update.
Boris Herrmann said that both boats had been relishing the battle: “We have pretty gusty winds, gusting between 20 and 30 knots so it’s not easy to find the optimum speed at all times. In the light we’re a bit half-powered, and in 30 knots it’s frenetic bursts. We have 27 knots on the GPS frequently, so we had a pretty good average over the past hours of around 17 knots. The sea state is pretty rough, but we’re coming along here with Solent and 2 reefs and a pretty good set up. No big kites or spinnakers to worry about, but it’s nice surfing.
“[The battle with Mirabaud] is very motivating for us and for them. They wrote us in an email saying they are enjoying this duel as much as we are. It pushes us - every position report we look first at their speed, their positioning, and that really keeps every going at every moment. Rather than putting negative pressure on us it’s very motivating, and it’s fun.
“We have been ahead of them for a very short moment 10 days now and we’re coming closer every position report for two days, and finally passing them right now is a great moment, we’re very happy.”
Meanwhile from the opposition Mirabaud's Dominique Wavre said: “We have a pretty moon with some stars and a lot of clouds, in fairly heavy seas with waves 3-4 metres high. The past day and night we have had a blast. It built up to 35-40 knots of wind, and was very, very shaky on board but everything went well. We'll certainly keep some memories of the fantastic surf and huge amounts of noise.
“The Indian Ocean is greyer than the Pacific, here at least we get glimpses of the sky. The south wind is also colder, and we are in a different atmosphere here.
“Four years ago we had a problem with the keel. We knew we had to stop, there wasn’t any debate. This time it is different as we have no serious damage, just a series of niggles. We will ask ourselves again the question of whether we should stop at Wellington. We will see later. When we stopped then it was kind of a relief to get the diagnosis on the keel. It was extremely nice to take a shower, knowing that we could continue the race, and have the chance to go shopping, clean the boat. It did a lot of good for us to recharge our batteries.
“Neutrogena has passed us. They sail very well. We had a small problem with our autopilot and we had to slow the boat to tinker with it but it is replaced now. But they make very few mistakes and are sailing very well and very consistently. They are good opponents. I do not know if Boris and Ryan plan to stop. We'll see.”