The battle continues in the light airs of the high pressure in the South Atlantic as Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron on Virbac-Paprec 3 try to escape into the southeasterly trade winds, but still through the early part of Wednesday the gains of Spain’s Mapfre have carried on.
The gnawing tension on board both boats was barely hidden this morning. Both Mapfre's Iker Martinez and Virbac Paprec 3's Jean-Pierre Dick spoke of modelling predictions, but both confirmed that they were struggling to track the movement of the centre of the high, and to know when they would be escaping its light winds.
Mapfre’s tactic remains to attack the centre directly, sailing at faster, reaching angles which have earned them more miles, but on this afternoon’s 1400 sched the differential between the two seems to have evened out and the tipping point might have been reached with 132 miles between the top two.
Martinez reported today: "We are getting slower, so unless they completely stop I don’t think we can cut down any more miles. Sailing with so little wind is very difficult because the wind is so unstable and it is never clear what sails you need. Sometimes you reach, sometimes you go upwind. If you go upwind it is easier. But now it is hard to adapt to find the fastest course so the boat does not slow down.”
The spectacle of a beautifully illuminated Cape Horn rounding for a skipper who has crossed the Atlantic many times, and the Indian and Pacific this time, proved something of a salve for Kito de Pavant for whom this mythical maritime milestone has previously eluded him on the Vendee Globe: “These wild, unspoiled coastlines are so impressive and imposing. The Cape itself is just a big, lonely rock but the islands behind are imposing, there is snow on the peaks and we were granted sunshine to really enjoy the moments. We earned it! I can’t help repeating that it has been such a long, hard road to get here. After getting so far on this course, the great battle we had that had allowed us to get miles again on Estrella Damm, and on Mirabaud and especially to try and get back to Neutrogena and Renault in the Atlantic.”
He and co-skipper Seb Audigane may be approaching Ushuaia this evening, not quite knowing what their full inspection of their keel problem will reveal when they reach the most southerly town in the world, but the memory for de Pavant especially will be one which will never leave him. They were tracked stopping there at 1745 GMT this Wednesday evening.
After Ryan Breymaier and de Pavant on Tuesday, Alex Pella was the race’s third Cape Horn newbie to pass, when he and Pepe Ribes breached the Atlantic early this morning.
Pella reported: “It went very well, it was upwind which was entertaining. We passed during the night. It is the feeling of turning the corner to go home which prevails. As far as the race up the Atlantic goes, our best hope is to be able to deal with the high pressure better than our Spanish friends. But it is a mythical thing the Cape, something I have dreamed about so it is good to have been there. I was really looking forwards to passing this corner.
"There is a bit of bungee effect and the boats have got closer but we are a bit of a pack, all with problems, Mirabaud with Michèle, Bel and Neutrogena with their keels. Wellington we came together and here we are into the Atlantic. But really I don’t know how many miles we will be able to cut back. After the stop in Wellington it was difficult for us, to get back into the racing rhythm and then with the cyclone Atu it was not easy. Now we don’t have many options but to stay upwind for a while and leave the Falklands to port. For me the Cape was a personal goal and something that everyone who sails would surely like to do. They think Pepe’s problem is with his kneecap, he certainly not sailing at 100% and there are some manoeuvres he can’t do."
The Neutrogena duo Herrmann and Breymaier have since had to deal with a headstay fitting failure which cost them time and miles since Cape Horn, but this afternoon Neutrogena was comfortably the quickest of the top four and had made ten miles back of their deficit to third place Renault Z.E Sailing Team which now stands at 270 miles, while only 413 miles now separates Pachi Rivero and Toño Piris from Estrella Damm.