Chris Cameron / www.chriscameron.co.nz

De Pavant turns 50 twice while concerned about Cyclone Atu

The latest from the Barcelona World Race

Wednesday February 23rd 2011, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

It is certainly not the 50th birthday present that Groupe Bel skipper Kito De Pavant was looking for, especially not ‘second time around’.

Such is the ironic timing of the Laughing Cow’s crossing of the international date-line later today and tomorrow that De Pavant was passing his first 50th birthday concerned about the weather situation, but tomorrow he will facing up to the formidable tropical cyclone Atu when his second 50th birthday comes around.

Both De Pavant and Spain’s Pepe Ribes, who both left Wellington on Tuesday night together on Groupe Bel and Estrella Damm, expressed their concern about how they would best deal with the trajectory and force of the challenging weather system which will propagate very strong winds and big, confused seas. Their key decisions will be based around the speed at which the system moves and both duos have been tracking the system consistently since before they left the Kiwi capital.

“ We don’t really know which way to deal with the problem: either by the south or by the north. What we do know it that it lies right on our course,” said de Pavant this morning, “ It is a pretty violent and unpleasant character, not what you want for your birthday. The cyclone brings with it a lot of rain, a lot of wind, and big seas. It is a small but very compact phenomenon which can damage the boat, very risky.”

As to his double birthday he added: "Fifty years old, it is the fourth Cape of this round the world race for me. I am not feeling very birthday. We did not have very much time to prepare anything because we were a bit preoccupied in Wellington, there was a lot of work to do. The weather conditions before we stopped were not so good, and we have lost a lot of time. And so the festivities have gone by the by. It is not that important, especially with a cyclone which is approaching.

"The difficult conditions should not last very long, 24 hours maybe and then after that we should have some strong winds which should allow us to go quickly towards the ice gates. The Spanish crew are just behind, we can see their lights. It is reassuring to be with them facing the same things. But the truth is that in such circumstances the second boat would not be able to do too much. We ate together yesterday evening and it would be good if we remained together until Barcelona.

Pepe Ribes added: “We have Groupe Bel about a mile away and it will eb good to sail with someone again as a reference. The passage of the Atu cyclone will be very complicated and neither Alex nor I have ever been confronted by such strong winds and I don’t really know what it will do to us and we are worried to look after the boat. We have been looking at if for a while and still don’t know how we will cross it.

"Our morale is not so high and so we must get back to the feelings we had and stop thinking about were we were in the race and what has happened to us. We need to get back into that mind set because the race is only half way."

The system is due to pass swiftly and the two boats recently departed from Wellington, will have it directly in their path, giving them the option to pass to the north which will at least give them the chance to use the westerlies on the north side of it, but they would need to sail a steeper angle and more miles to get there. Alternatively they might be to simply slow and avoid the worst of it.

At the front of the fleet Spain’s Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez on Mapfre got to within 25 miles today of the long time race leader Virbac Paprec 3. The leading duo are nicely placed on the southern side of a progressive high pressure system which is allowing them a classical arc up to the NE to respect the second ice gate of the Pacific without having to worry about manoeuvres, simply having to sail fast towards the same target. As an instructive insight into the relative speeds of the 2007 generation former Foncia, built prior to the IMOCA Rule’s power cap, and the latest generation design, and of course the sailors potential, this is proving a thrilling encounter which is due to continue for a few days more at least.

It was a triumphant but difficult passage through ‘home’ waters for the Barcelona World Race’s only Kiwi, Andy Meiklejohn who passed through the Cook Strait today, feeling a real mix of different emotions. On the one hand Meiklejohn was feeling devastated and helpless at the earthquake which hit Christchurch, on the other he was intensely proud to be bringing the powerful Hugo Boss past Wellington, foregoing any technical stopover.

Having started the race with stand-in co-skipper Wouter Verbraak the duo have sailed a smart race so far, rising to seventh place, and now within 650 miles of the race’s podium. Alex Thomson was on the water off Wellington with technical manager Ross Daniel to greet the two co-skippers on the wet, bumpy ride past the capital.

“We have had a tough time of the last seven weeks with several issues forcing us to be slower than optimal, this was also after a very light exit to the Med, conditions that the heaviest boat in the fleet definitely did not like,” wrote Meiklejohn. “Wouter and I have managed to pool together our resources, our common strength and the belief and with the support of Alex and our shore team to keep the yacht in the race, and here we are just 400 miles behind 4th place and the battle begins again.

“Our troubles however are insignificant compared to the disaster that has just hit the Christchurch region of New Zealand. This is an area with incredible pride and emotional toughness. They boast an unrivaled sporting success through their cricket teams, netball teams and the All-conquering Crusaders rugby outfit who have dominated southern hemisphere rugby for the last 15 years.

“So it’s with real sadness that I sail up Cook Strait in sight of home, its hard to feel excited when there are so many people feeling so much pain. Its great to celebrate what we do and getting to the halfway stage is an achievement in itself but it pales in comparison to what happens in the real world. It’s a real mix of emotions that’s hard to contain and harder to put down in words. We Kiwis are brought up to be hardened to tragedy and sadness but sometimes it doesn’t feel right, sometimes there’s a bigger picture.

“Christchurch, our thoughts are with you. Look after each other, give those you don’t know a hug or a helping hand, it’s with that bond that you will once again pull through and, like the phoenix, rise again.”

Alex Thomson gave his take: “ It was amazing to go out there and see the boat and see the guys, a bit weird in a lot of ways, but the guys were in great spirits, the boat looked fantastic and I just feel very proud of what they have achieved so far in a very difficult set of circumstances. They continue to stay positive and are really looking forwards at the possibilities.

"The mast track problem means they can’t currently sail with the mainsail above the first reef. So basically upwind in anything less than 17 knots of wind they are compromised, going slower, and downwind in anything less than 22 knots they are going slower. So the boat is definitely not being sailed to its potential, but when you look at the options to stop or not – losing 48 hours, potentially nearly a 1000 miles – when there is the possibility of them doing the repair on board was too difficult for them to bear, and if I was in the same situation I would have made the same choice.

"We went out and were alongside them for about half an hour and both Ross, our operations manager, and I had a happy conversation with them for about half an hour on the VHF, lots of laughing and joking, them suggesting I get a hair cut. It was fun, but it was also difficult: Andy and I had planned to be doing this race together so for both of us it was probably a bit strange, but I think that the reality is that the guys are in the groove, they have worked together brilliantly, they have formed a great partnership. Their place is on the boat and my place is on the land on this one. That is just a fact.

"It is a difficult one. The guys speak to our team every day, sometimes more than once a day, but usually it is about media stuff, or about technical matters: the media stuff does not involve me and my forte is not the technical side, so I am acting as a bit of a supporter really, a little bit of a mentor really. It is kind of strange and I feel at a bit of a loose end at times. But I have accepted the situation but today it was real proof to me that I feel good about the situation, There is nothing I can do about it. I can be happy about where they are that they are fighting and they are doing a great job.”

 

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