Mapfre close to 8 miles
On board Mapfre, Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez has so far been unable to make any further impression on the lead of Virbac-Paprec 3 as the Barcelona World Race’s two leading IMOCA Open 60s play their angles downwind towards the Mid Pacific ice gate, now over half way from Wellington NZ to Cape Horn.
Though the two leaders had become increasingly isolated at the head the fleet, with nearly 1,200 miles now between Virbac-Paprec 3 and third placed Renault Z.E Sailing Team, the third to fifth placed peloton were back up to full speed this afternoon after extricating themselves from a persistent zone of light winds emerging into stronger northerly and northwesterly winds this morning.
The lead of Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron shrunk to as little as 8.3 miles this morning as Spanish duo gybed and headed southeast, but after Virbac Paprec 3 gybed later the long time leader have been quicker on every count today, making ten miles on Mapfre, proving that when it comes to a downwind sprint to the next ice gate attack is the only form of defence.
Speaking live today Loïck Peyron, co-skipper of Virbac-Paprec 3 remarked that the gulf between second and third was almost bizarre, having a match race between two boats so close together and so evenly matched, separated from the body of the fleet by so much.
Peyron was on typically rhetorical form today, describing the course that the fleet: “When we watch our courses we sometimes ask ourselves if we are not like a flea circus, making little, trained jumps from gate to gate!”
But the gap certainly does nothing to change the frenetic pace of the duel. Neither duo has it in their genetic make-up to consider anything other than first place as their target: for today, tomorrow, not at Cape Horn late next week nor in the longer team future. Other ocean races may feature skippers speaking of the importance of simply being with the vanguard and in shape to make the final push to win.
Dick and Peyron were reunited on the airwaves today in a French link up with former adversary Michel Desjoyeaux on BFM TV. Desjoyeaux could not resist the opportunity to spar with the Virbac-Paprec 3 duo:
Peyron: “Yes, when it’s not you, it’s one of your boats annoying us!”
Desjoyeaux: “ We didn’t want you to get bored so we called up our Spanish friends to put the pressure on you.”
Peyron: “That’s nice of you. A great idea! We missed you.”
The leaders opened up a little more on their relationship aboard:
“Loïck is very easy on board. It is great times for me to live through this race with him. Of course there are moments when you would rather have your space. The same for him no doubt. I can be a bit head in the air, and I leave my socks around. Living three months together can be a big challenge,” said Dick.
Meanwhile from Mapfre, Xabi Fernandez reported: “We are more or less at the layline to the gate. Virbac-Paprec 3 gybed a little earlier than us. We expect a shift and so we are waiting to see if they have to gybe again. We are close all the time, although we did this last gybe a little late. And we are a little behind, but….we are 100% all the time. We used the pilot before and took the chance to rest a bit, but it has been hard recently. We have between 25 and 35 kts and gybe after gybe with hardly any rest. But we are on it!”
The four duos who are dealing with the difficult low pressure system, which was formerly cyclone Atu, have been bending to their task since this morning. After discussing strategies several times Estrella Damm and Groupe Bel have taken slightly different approaches, with Estrella Damm looking to be well placed up to the north of the centre of the system late this afternoon, giving them good options to emerge on its northeast side, while Groupe Bel were more to the south and east but almost equally well positioned in terms of having options to get east. Wind speeds may have been downgraded but the chaotic, huge seas created by the passage of the strong winds from changing directions over a relatively small area and a short space of time, were likely to be the biggest problem.
From on board fourth placed Neutrogena, Boris Herrmann reported: “For the last six hours we have been into really good breeze and are making 21-22 knots. We had a transition zone to get into this northerly breeze and so we were between gennaker and Code Zero all the time, tacking and trying to get the boat moving, and we had a two hours period when we had no speed at all. It is was half mile we made in three hours, something like that. But we can be happy, it stays the same way outside – rain and drizzle all the time – but we have 25 knots and are doing 20 knots of boat speed and it is fabulous.
"I discovered today when we had a full check of the boat that we have Neutrogena shower gel on board and that makes me very happy because I cant wait to have a shower some time. The boat is well but we still have a small problem with the ballast system which leaks from windward to leeward, and so we have to drain the leeward side quite often and to refill windward often but that does not really slow us down very much.
"They have a little bit of a closer angle to the wind and so that should allow us to catch up on them. At the moment I don’t think anyone in this area is going faster than us. I have just seen 22 knots on the GPS. It is awesome, relatively flat water. I just stacked everything at the back, all the sails, the food bags, everything and so the bow is up and we are surfing very nicely. It is one of the strong points of this boat, it gets the nose out easily and it can be very nice and smooth.
"We have come along well and we get on well. Still it is a long race. It is amazing how we still get to know each other better and better, even after such a long time, we can distinguish the moods better and more precisely. I can see when Ryan has a good day, when he has a normal day and when he is a bit calmer today, things like that. For most of us our moods change with the weather. Since New Zealand it has been grey, grey, grey…no light, no sun. That is a bit depressing but now I am excited about our speed."
Citing problems with their water-maker which could not be fixed at sea, Gérard Marin and Ludovic Aglaor on Forum Maritim Catala indicated this afternoon that they will make a technical stopover in Wellington, expecting to arrive early Monday (GMT).