Virbac Paprec 3 breaks out of the high

As South Atlantic opens up for the chasing pack in the Barcelona World Race

Thursday March 10th 2011, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

Logically it was expected by both the crews of Virbac-Paprec 3 and Mapfre - the long time leaders Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron had some confidence that they would escape first from the south Atlantic high pressure system which had snared them for more than 48 hours.

With their more westerly course, closer to the centre of the anticyclone and so in lighter winds, Spanish Olympic medallists Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez were hopeful that they could still get sufficiently close to their rivals to reach the exit of the high pressure in close contact.

Even though the odds were very much in favour of the French duo getting out first, Jean-Pierre Dick still described life in the anticyclone as like being in a ‘game of roulette’, but since Wednesday night it has been Virbac-Paprec 3 which, for the moment, have collected the winnings: "We chose to sail east of the Saint-Helena anticyclone, avoiding getting too close to the centre of this high pressure area where there’s no wind. We sailed round it at a distance of roughly 200 miles. Our calculation was a good one. It was a wager; we bet on a long term strategy favouring safety. In these conditions you must accept the “bungee effect”, i.e. you give away miles to widen the gap later.”

Loick Peyron added: "It’s not new for me to do a round the world race. This is my third chance to do a round the world race, the first one I was alone, that was 20 years ago, the second was a crewed race, when we started from Barcelona again, 10 years ago in a big cat. And this time we are two-handed, which is quite interesting. The ways of sailing and racing when you are all alone, or with crew or doublehanded, are really different. The other big difference compared to everything I’ve done before is that I’m not the skipper, I’m the co-skipper, I’m the crew of Jean-Pierre. You don’t have all the responsibility of the whole project, you just have to do your job.

“On these kind of races – or any kind of race, whether it’s just between three buoys or around the world – the biggest challenge is to try to finish the race. The best way to finish a race is to win it, but the best way to win it is to finish it. It could be a definite challenge [to live together for 69 days on board. For sure it’s not comfortable, for sure it’s really noisy, it’s really wet. But we choose this game. And there are so many other reasons to suffer we have absolutely no reasons to complain.”

Mapfre’s torment has continued through most of Thursday, making only 80 miles in the 24 hours up until 1400 GMT this afternoon while Virbac-Paprec 3 have averaged three times her speed and have extended their lead by 347 miles. The Spanish duo are expected to start to escape the hgih tonight, emerging into the light trade winds which have allowed the French duo to make their departure.

The weather picture in the south Atlantic is looking like it will offer an equal mix of challenges and opportunities. For the leaders the light trade winds mean a generally disorganised, broad Doldrums at the moment.

But for the chasing pack comprising Neutrogena, Mirabaud, Estrella Damm and then – increasingly - Hugo Boss and GAES Centros Auditivos, the odds are improving all the time. A low pressure system, which is building off the Falklands not only appears to be opening the door to the South American coast, but might even provide a fast moving, downwind conveyor belt ride in flat water, saving many miles on the easterly route around the south Atlantic high pressure.

From Neutrogena, Ryan Breymaier reported: “It’s a little bit damp again, we’re on our favourite point of sail going upwind! Life is okay, we rounded the Horn, and had a little problem straight afterwards – yet again! – and fixed that, and have been going upwind every since basically. So it’s not too bad all things considered.

“The solent headstay on our boat is the second one aft, that is held onto the rig with a metal fitting which also spins so you can roll up the sail. That fitting broke in half so the sail, which was in use at the time, fell directly in the water to leeward of the boat, and in a big mess. So we pulled it all back on board first, took the cable out of the sail and lashed the cable back into place to support the mast, so we more or less put it back in place because it supports the rig. But we don’t have any metal on it at this point so we’re missing our solent jib, which is a 15-25 knots sail.

“First of all we’re very happy with where we are in the fleet. To manage to stay ahead of these other boats with having the trouble that we do, we’re pretty lucky and I think the boat’s still moving pretty well for having had so many things adding up to a pretty decent loss in potential. As far as the weather situation goes we’re going upwind right now, trying to get as far to the west as possible because there’s a little low spinning off the land and we want to be on the downwind side of it, on the western side of it when it does arrive, so we’re trying to do that, and trying to get the boat back to as high a percentage of its potential as possible. The loss of that sail is not hurting us nearly as bad as we expected it to, we’re just using the trinquet which is the smaller one, or the staysail, and we seem to go upwind with that without a whole lot of worries. So at the moment we’re doing fine and after that we should go downwind where we’re not affected.

“I’m not sure that I got stressed out for Bilou, just like when he watches us he says ‘Yeah, they have a problem,’ but he has confidence that we’re going to be able to fix it without any worries. I think the same goes for us, when I watched his Vendée I thought whatever problem he had he’s just going to work through it and it’s going to be fine.

“The sky is fairly blue, we’re going upwind in 22 knots of breeze and rolling waves, it’s not short chop or anything so the boat’s still moving well. It’s starting to warm up a bit already. For sure going upwind is not my favourite point of sail, but the Atlantic is much nicer than the Pacific for the moment.

“I worry about Estrella Damm all the time. I haven’t heard anything about whether their boat is 100% or not, I have to assume that it is and they’re going to be very quick. Mirabaud – I hope Michele is doing okay these days, they don’t seem to be going that fast so it seems to me he’s [Dominique Wavre] probably sailing fairly solitarily at the moment, but both boats if they’re in better shape than we are at the moment have a good chance of passing us before this is over.”

In Ushuaia, Kito De Pavant and Seb Audigane were due start work with their shore team today to lift Groupe Bel out of the water to make a proper technical assessment of their keel problem: “The keel was swinging longitudinally at a height of over a meter. The noise was so loud that we got the impression that we were slamming into each wave," de Pavant reported. "We also have a small leak, since the ram has made a small hole in the hull. We were conscious of the danger. The watchword was safety and we had to anticipate the eventuality of capsizing. Everything was ready. The compartments were hermetically sealed and we stayed in our survival suits continuously. We were also ready to spend time in the overturned boat, if necessary.”

For Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella, expected at Cape Horn tomorrow night on GAES Centros Auditivos, conditions in the south Atlantic turning favourable would repeat Caffari’s Vendée Globe, when she was able to short cut and catch up miles on the ascent of the Atlantic. The race’s only female duo look set to reach Cape Horn as the first pair to have suffered no significant injury or ill-health to themselves or to their IMOCA Open 60 over the 20,000 miles and 70 days of racing.

Speaking live to the Global Sports Forum, a gathering of sports administration and promotion professionals in Barcelona, debating the future avenues and developments of sport, Caffari reported: "I think we had the worst of the weather yesterday, we’ve got a pretty straight run in now. But the wind’s a little bit inconsistent, a little bit up and down in the gusts and the squalls. But we’re just taking it a little bit easy now, not wanting to break anything with less than 450 miles to go. It’s nice knowing that that corner is coming closer.

“It’s all about managing your time and managing how you run the boat, and knowing when to back off when things are a little bit too much. The last 24-48 hours have been pretty intense for us, so actually I’m feeling quite tired now, but knowing it’s the last push to get to the corner is quite a good focus. The weather in the Atlantic will hopefully give us a bit of a break, but it is never-ending and it is quite soul-destroying that every time you think you can get a sleep you need to do a sail change. But it’s all worth it, and it’s just managing your sleep and your expectations. Last night we took it easy and that allowed us to re-catch up on some sleep a little bit.

“The South Atlantic is known for being quite complex in its weather and it would be an ideal opportunity to close the gap. I was really lucky two years ago in the Vendee Globe and I’m hoping I can have that luck again, and close on the guys in front because the race is still going on, there’s a long way to go.

“I’m pretty happy that all those little niggles that we’ve had on the boat we’ve managed, there’s nothing we haven’t overcome, so I’m pretty confident we can go for it big time in the Atlantic. Once we’re in warmer weather I think Anna’s going to feel more confident and more comfortable so that’ll be good as well.

“Anna’s doing really well, as for me learning Spanish that isn’t going well but her English is getting really good. But she’s definitely Mediterranean, the sun and the warmth are what she’s longing for. I think the novelty value of the Southern Ocean has worn off now.

“I’ve had a whole mixture of Cape Horn roundings, my first one was horrendous, my second one I was almost becalmed and I got all my photos taken then, and the third one we know all about the big storm in the Vendée Globe. So I’m hoping this one I’ll have decent wind, get a nice photo for Anna, and then turn the corner and charge down the rest of the guys!”

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