Mid-Pacific match race
They have become increasingly close over the past 24 hours, but it was only today that Virbac-Paprec 3’s French co-skipper Loïck Peyron acknowledged that the speed race between the long time race leaders and their Spanish Olympic medal winning adversaries Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez would be an even one over coming days.
Mapfre have closed down nearly 150 miles on Virbac-Paprec 3 since the French duo restarted out of Wellington last Friday, but Peyron has pointed to an inherent advantage granted to the Mapfre speedsters who, as the chasing boat, have been sailing in better pressure. But, after the duo passed the second ice gate of the Pacific in match-race formation this morning, they have twice traded almost simultaneous gybes only 20 miles apart on the water after over 55 days and more than 16,000 miles of racing.
As the two Barcelona World Race leaders today saw their miles to finish drop under 10,000 miles to the finish, the intensity of the competition on a fast Pacific passage is increasing all the time.
Peyron said: "We are in good company, not alone any more. And we cannot make any excuses now. The difference between us now in terms of wind direction and forces is next to nothing. It is a great race. They play a good game and we try to do the same. We will have a gybe to make and the wind will pick up. The conditions to the Horn look better for us and there will be lots of opportunities. It will be down to placement and pure speed as of the next gate and it will get more interesting in the days to come. The high was relatively simple to manage but it did tend to favour the advance of our Spanish friends who were always able to attack. Now we will be in a more even wind and see who does, finally we will have a gauge.”
In fact on every indicator this afternoon there is little to choose between the winner of the first edition of the Barcelona World Race Dick, with Peyron and the latest generation VPLP/Verdier design which Dick plans to race solo in next year’s Vendée Globe, and the Spanish 49er skiff aces, who are on their first ever non stop around the world race armed with the highly optimised, well proven winner of the last Vendée Globe, Michel Desjoyeaux' former Foncia. Over the five hours up to 1400 UTC this afternoon Mapfre was computed to have been 0.1 of a knot quicker on average.
There was relief among the quarter of the fleet which have been most concerned about their passage relative to Atu, which has now been downgraded to be a strong, difficult low pressure system which threatens much more with the potentially big and chaotic sea state, and the timing of the trajectory of the system now much more of a challenge than the magnitude of the winds which were previously forecast.
Skippers this morning were frustrated by the discrepancies between the American and European weather models which were making it difficult to set a timing to their preferred course of action. But both Wouter Verbraak on Hugo Boss and Dee Caffari on GAES Centros Auditivos were united in the shared opinion that their strategy would place safety well ahead of any loss of miles to the opposition ahead or behind. Caffari commented: “It is just the sea state around it which will be hard on the boat and so it is just making sure we don’t do anything silly and we get this obstacle out of the way. You might lose some miles with these kind of situations but if you and the boat remain in good form then it is easy to make those miles up again than if you have issues and are constantly battling all of the time.”
After passing Wellington at a little after dawn Thursday morning (local), Caffari sounded in upbeat form this morning, having given GAES and themselves a refreshing wash and brush up in readiness for the open Pacific to Cape Horn. Hugo Boss was six miles ahead of GAES Centros Auditivos this afternoon.
Caffari commented: "It is really nice to have all the boats so close together again, it makes it all exciting again, each position report, which is great. Hugo Boss went further to the south we can only guess that they went for flat water and to take advantage of the light winds conditions like we had when we left New Zealand to maybe work on their repairs which are ongoing, but we are obviously both looking at the cyclone and out best route through to avoid the worst of the conditions.
"It is quite interesting that the weather files this morning did not really agree and it seems to have slowed down a bit, progress to the SE. Yesterday we were pretty confident we would go over the top and take the downwind option, which allows us to choose how much wind we want to go into, without adding too much mileage but today the options are split, one can go over the top and one can go around the bottom. So fortunately we still have time to monitor its progress and keep and eye on the models and make that decision nearer the time. So we have more time to make that decision, unlike say Groupe Bel and Estrella Damm, the fact that it is weakening is a good thing so our conditions will not be as severe. It is just the sea state around it which will be hard on the boat and so it is just making sure we don’t do anything silly and we get this obstacle out of the way.
"You might lose some miles with these kind of situations but if you and the boat remain in good form then it is easy to make those miles up again than if you have issues and are constantly battling all of the time.”
Wouter Verbraak updated from Hugo Boss: "The passage of the Cook Strait was really something out of this world, the scenery is just amazing, the water, wildlife, mountains in the background. It is a fantastic place on this earth and a unique place to be on the Hugo Boss passing through such scenery.
"Alex came out on a big RIB and we had a good chat with him on the VHF, it was great to see him and to see our technical shore manager Ross. They have been so good at supporting us, to see them and have a chat and crack a few jokes together, and them to say ‘well done guys’ that we have all made it this far. We were hoping to see a boat load of beautiful girls, but instead we got him and Ross! That was as close as we came to a girl was Alex with his long hair. But it was great to see them and really feel their support out on the water.
"The dominant feature is this tropical cyclone which is making its way south. It is really on the track of Estrella Damm, Groupe Bel, GAES and us here on Hugo Boss, so we need to make a big call on seamanship versus racing, and at the moment it looks like we just have to slow down the boat, let the system pass by and forget about racing for a few hours and then once the system is safely past us start racing again.
"It is one of the things which is unique about ocean racing, yes we are in a competition but at the same time we rely a certain amount on our seamanship skills and judgement and so this next stage is going to be a lot more about seamanship and racing. Anything can happen, but now we are very happy to see there are quite a number of a boats that we are in touch with. Our philosophy is every manoeuvre, every judgement on the weather and the sail call we will take one step at a time and try to do it perfectly. We try to make sure we are open minded and don’t get stuck in the systems that we have been establishing, but also be creative and come up with new solutions. The weather is always throwing different things at us so we have be creative and doing things perfectly and that will give us results in the end."
Rudder maintenance has been high on the agenda for third placed Pachi Rivero and Toño Piris on Renault Z.E Sailing Team. The Spanish duo reported that they had been increasingly plagued by play between the carbon rudder blade and the blades’ mountings, but an extended maintenance session, removing one of the blades, extensive greasing and replacing a pintle again, and packing the cheeks of the other blade with rope, has relieved their issue.
“On board everything is fine," reported Rivero. "These days we are not having much luck with the weather, so we decided to go down further south looking for a front with stronger winds. Now we have a lot of waves from the bow, and a lot of slamming. We have been following the track of Atu, and from what we see on maps we will escape from it. We are monitoring it but we're cool because we believe it won’t affect us much.
"Fuel is going fine, and the generators are going very well, we haven’t had any problems. We are very relaxed on the energy subject. We are glad to be in third place but it is an secondary fact, the goal is to maintain it, because the ones ahead are escaping and our goal now is to increase the distance with the ones behind.
"In the rudders had a problem with the fittings, and since the blades are made out of carbon with the movement they have they wear out and get thinner. We have solved it tying them up with ropes and we keep checking on them. And the truth is that is holding up pretty well.
The feelings with the first edition of the Barcelona World Race, are different since we didn’t stop, I personally was looking forward to going around the world without stopping. I was telling Toño when he had the chance to stop that also involved a psychological break. If you stop there is a break of pace since you leave and is hard to get back. We feel very strong and well, and we keep going with the same energy."