Surviving the South Atlantic
Fortune favours the Barcelona World Race leaders and those who have more recently entered the Atlantic, but the trio of IMOCA Open 60 skippers who are encountering a boisterous active low pressure off the River Plate, on the Uruguay-Argentine border, will be pleased to race on into Monday morning in what should be diminishing winds and an improving wind angle.
The steep, at times chaotic seas have already contributed to the demise of Mirabaud’s rig. Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret reported late yesterday afternoon that their mast had snapped above the third spreader. A battle to secure the broken top section proved unwinnable, and before long it appears the broken section took away two more spreaders and in the end the duo had to cut their rig free.
Speaking this morning Wavre said they now planned to ride out the remainder of the worst of the stormy low pressure system before attempting to set up a jury rig using Mirabaud’s boom and storm jib.
The Swiss skipper, who had to abandon his 2008-9 Vendée Globe with keel damage, remarked that Mirabaud was low on diesel and so will need to be self-reliant to sail towards the Argentinian coast, some 650 miles to the west this morning.
Wavre recalled: “We spend last night under engine to try and get ourselves further from the centre of the depression, and now we just await its passage and then we will see if we can get a jury rig set with the boom and the storm jib. We are more than 700 miles from the coast and we don’t have a lot of diesel. We will try to get to a port but we don’t really have an idea at the moment which one that will be. We are in touch with Marcel van Triest, the race meteorologist, and our shore team and monitor the evolution of the weather system.
"When it happened we had the seas coming from ahead and we were slamming, the boat making about 10 knots. We heard a crack. We saw the port side spreader at the third level collapse and then everything went very quickly. We could do nothing as the top seven metres of the mast fell. We fought for a good time to secure the remainder of the mast and tried to cut the sails free to set the two parts of the mast free from each other. But the top section of the mast hit the spreaders, smashed them and the whole remaining section became unstable. So we had to cut the shrouds and let it go.
"It was 2 or 3 am by the time we had the deck reasonably clear. The deck is not damaged, the boat is watertight and that’s important. Now the priority is to ride out the depression. We don’t know how we will get to the Argentine coast, we don’t have much diesel and so we might need to rely on our own resources to get there.
"Michèle is better and has recovered her strength, but here we are inside the boat now and keep ourselves in the bunk as much as possible until the strong gale passes.”
Mirabaud falls from what was shaping up to be a tight three way battle up the Atlantic, leaving Neutrogena and Estrella Damm to slug it out upwind into the low pressure. They are just nine miles apart this afternoon in terms of distance to the finish, but today Neutrogena’s German co-skipper Boris Herrmann reported that they were well set for the period of gale force winds and big seas, and to date were pleased to have been holding off the advances of the Spanish duo Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes. The past winner of the Portimao Global Ocean Race round the world in Class 40 yachts said they already were seeing the most wind they have raced upwind today:
Herrmann said: “It is pretty windy now we have between 31 and 36 knots going upwind and the third reef and the small staysail that we call the trinquette. We expect to stay on this tack for a couple of days and have strong winds for the next 20 hours, maybe 24 hours. We are down to the smallest sails and normally it should all remain as it is now, the forecast that we see just now is for not much more than this wind, and so we just push through. We are ready. If it gets more then we have to take the headsail down.”
In contrast for the leader Virbac-Paprec 3, sailing now in improving trade winds off the Brazilian coast, it was a chance for Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron to recall fond memories of their 2005 Transat Jacques Vabre transatlantic race victory which cemented their partnership. And of course effectively now the duo only have the equivalent of a reciprocal transat to the finish of this race, another exciting milestone on the homewards leg. They lead Mapfre by 369 miles this afternoon.
Peyron reported: "We are under a bit of a squall with about 20 knots of breeze. Under these conditions we reduce a bit of sail to avoid being overpowered and then we will increase the sail area again. Out ascent up the Atlantic is not so exciting, with some variations of wind pressure and sail changes and so we are making fair progress. Within three to four days we will be back in the Doldrums.
"It is good sailing back off Salvador again, a nice reminder of our 2005 victory in the Transat Jacques Vabre, and we will be approaching the latitude of Recife this time without any thoughts of stopping and we have such fond memories of our friend Ludo who helped us so much during our pit-stop in January.”
Renault Z.E’s Pachi Rivero and Toño Piris continue to do excellent work in third place, getting a good balance between attack and defence as they work upwind towards this difficult system, but in fact the Spanish duo should be able to miss out nicely on the worst effects of the low and profit when they reach the more westerly side of it.
Suspicions that Hugo Boss has been slow and compromised since the Falklands seem to be confirmed by the report from Alex Thomson Racing Team that the Juan-K designed IMOCA Open 60 will stop in the east of the Falklands as Andy Meiklejohn and Wouter Verbraak seek to make a series of repairs, unsupported and unaided, using only the material and tools they have on board the boad. The top of the mainsail mast track is understood to be a priority repair, but sail repairs are also on the job list which should get the duo back closer to maximum potential for their 6650 miles they will have to get to the finish in Barcelona. The team say they expect to take less than 24 hours for the repairs. As it is intended to be unaided, with no outside assistance, it would not incur the mandatory 48 hours minimum.
Meantime GAES Centros Auditivos have been making good progress in seventh place after routing to the west of the Falklands in good reaching and downwind conditions, already 89 miles ahead of Hugo Boss, and at 13.6 knots the girls are the fastest of the fleet this Sunday afternoon.
Boris Herrmann reported from Neutrogena: "It is pretty windy now we have between 31 and 36 knots going upwind and the third reef and the small staysail that we call the trinquette. We expect to stay on this tack for a couple of days and have strong winds for the next 20 hours, maybe 24 hours. We are down to the smallest sails and normally it should all remain as it is now, the forecast that we see just now is for not much more than this wind, and so we just push through. We are ready. If it gets more then we have to take the headsail down.
"We follow Estrella Damm very closely and at the moment we are pretty happy that we can keep up their speed and the race is on! The last two days were pretty intense, we have had a real transition since just before Cape Horn to constant sail changes and boat work which is pretty tiring. Ryan climbed up the rig again just after the Falklands to set up a system so that we could use our Solent which fell down just after Cape Horn. That took us a whole day setting up the sail and taking it down again, lashings and so on. That works. Last night we had a transition,, a frontal passage, which had strong winds on both sides and no wind in the middle, especially on the western side of the front we have the big waves coming from the easterly side with the northerly winds. I think that is the conditions where Mirabaud broke their rig. You try to sail slowly but you have the waves right on the nose.
"It is a grey day, we have rough seas, we sail at a wide angle 60 degrees so that we don’t slam over the waves and jump. Taking in the third reef was pretty challenging because of the headwinds. We had to winch the sail down. These are the strongest upwind conditions we have had so far in this race.
"We have 18 instead of nearly 40 degrees of keel cant, a lot less. But it is a little less compromising going upwind with these small sails, than for example when we are reaching. We are much more compromised when we are reaching. Right now we have the keel eased off so much to take some pressure off the ram when it slams through the waves.
"We are lucky we can still cant it with the hydraulic electric system. We just have to manually open all the valves which are concerned and then close them. Even when we just want to release the keel a bit then we have to go dead downwind and play with these valves and lower it down like that, we don’t have to pump it by hand luckily.”