Chris Cameron / www.chriscameron.co.nz

Barcelona World Race extends its sympathy for Christchurch

Further traffic in Cook Strait as Mapfre closes on Virbac Paprec 3

Tuesday February 22nd 2011, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

From their remote locations in the Pacific Ocean, on the Tasman and in the Indian Ocean, and those not so remote, in the Cook Strait and stopped over in Wellington itself, skippers of the Barcelona World Race joined in solidarity with the people of Christchurch and New Zealand. News of the fatal earthquake on New Zealand’s south island came as a shock to most of the fleet this morning, and messages from the skippers reflected their concern and affection for the Kiwi nation.

Co-skipper of Central Lechera Asturiana Juan Merediz remarked from the Pacific: “The news about the earthquake is a big shock for us, we have just heard. It touches us a lot when we are here living out our dreams here, and others in the world are having theirs taken away from them.”

In Wellington, Pepe Ribes, co-skipper of Estrella Damm, who was making ready to leave this Tuesday evening (GMT), early Wednesday morning New Zealand time, remarked: “Everybody here has been affected by this tragedy which has happened here in New Zealand a country which has always offered such a warm welcome, and where everyone is so friendly. All the problems we have in the race pale into a different perspective. We hope that Christchurch can be recovered and our thoughts are with the people there.”

Ribes and Alex Pella will leave Wellington in tandem with their French rivals on Groupe Bel with a new fight on their hands, ready for a very different kind of contest from that which they have fought so far in their Barcelona World Race, from pace-makers to playing catch up: “When you are at the front, fighting with the leaders you are excited, now we need to go out, push hard and give 100% as we always do and try to catch up. For us I think it is a new race, we were racing hard for the podium and now we will race hard with Neutrogena, Mirabaud from fifth to seventh,say, but still it is a race. We need to push hard and go fast. Your mind-set changes a little bit. When you are doing your first IMOCA Round the World Race and you are at the front, you are excited, now I am a bit more calm.

"We really did not have anything very much on the job list other than things that we had fixed over the last week or so We had fixed one spinnaker and the mainsail so they went to the sailmaker. And beyond that, nothing was really added to the list. So it was really only the furler which is fixed. The part came this afternoon and it was supposed to be the morning but it was coming from the South Island.The weather? Is not looking very good for us at all, not good. We will take raincoats and umbrellas! There is SE’ly wind coming and a tropical storm coming down to New Zealand. So do we go looking for the storm to the east? We would have to be really be committed to go north but you might ride the low for one day and then get nothing to get south again, really always you want to go south to find the low pressures. So we really need to look at it again this evening before we leave.”

Estrella Damm and Groupe Bel will leave Wellington with a deficit of around 1150 miles on the leading boat Virbac-Paprec 3, and around 400-450 miles on Renault Z.E Sailing Team. Pachi Rivero and Toño Piris have consolidated their third place nearly 200 miles ahead of fourth placed Neutrogena. And the two teams which will leave Wellington imminently face a difficult weather scenario with southerly and southeasterly headwinds presenting a slow battle to get south to the train of Pacific low pressure systems.

Ryan Breymaier from Neutrogena reported: “We are going pretty well now. After our nice time going through Cook Strait we had a period of six or eight hours with very little wind and very big swell. And now we have breeze again now and are on our route. We are just trying to stay ahead and to sail as fast as possible, as usual. Yesterday we sailed into Tasman Bay with beautiful sunshine, flat water, we put the kite up. I had perfect conditions to do a rig check, I stopped the boat for a couple of minutes while Boris went diving to make sure everything was OK under the boat, to continue on. That was our own little version of stopping. We just did it in the middle of the bay there. Everything was great, we sailed with the kite up through the entire Tasman Bay, through the Cook Strait, two gybes in the middle of the night, and then blasted out of there this morning, with a little following wind of 30 knots. It was a super easy passage weather-wise. In terms of the race and milestones it is awesome to feel like you have managed to get through half way.

"It was a little weird, they said there would be a RIB come out to meet us, and who should be on it but the boat captain of Renault Z.E Sailing Team who I became friends with and had dinner with a few times in Barcelona, so it was nice to see him even only for a few seconds, but it is surreal to end up so close to civilisation and it is so far away. To talk for 30 seconds face to face, to have this flurry of activity with the helicopter and the big boat, and then all of a sudden it is back to ‘normal’ life, nobody around we saw some seals this afternoon and that is about it.”

The battle at the front of the fleet remains closer than ever with Spain’s double Olympic medallists and three times 49er world champions on Mapfre still hunting down long time race leaders Virbac-Paprec 3.

Mapfre’s Iker Martinez remarked today that even they were surprised they have got so close to the French duo Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron. Only 58 miles separated the best Spanish boat and the French leaders this evening.

“We did not know anything at all of the New Zealand earthquake until five minutes ago. My cousin was there three days ago but he is travelling and is on his way to Australia. The boat is going well and we have really good conditions. Virbac-Paprec have the anticyclone a little closer and lose a little speed. We must be going fast because we are getting closer to them faster than we hoped we would. We are close to them it good even because with somebody close it makes you feel more secure. We did what we wanted to do and did not stop. On the one hand they have a boat which is close to 100% and that will benefit them for sure in the future, that is not what will be the case for us, but it is fine for us just now. Out boat is sufficiently good for the moment.

The important thing is to find time to solve technical problems on the boat. On the other hand the stop by Virbac-Paprec 3 must cost you by breaking your rhythm before getting back on the boat. We are very well and the physical aspect does not bother us. We must take special care for icebergs, the nights are very dark and nothing is seen. Also we must have a little luck, going little by little. Regatta Direction is doing good work monitoring the positions of the ice and that makes us feel more secure. A direct hand to hand speed test to the middle of the Pacific is on the cards."

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