The F Word
75 days of hard racing, the living might be relatively easy now, but the small miles and fractions of a miles are hard won for the Barcelona World Race’s trio of Renault Z.E Sailing Team, Neutrogena and Estrella Damm.
With good speeds in the brisk southeasterly winds some 700 miles off the coast of Florianapolis, Brazil, blessed now with sunshine, ready miles and even the chance to build some serious hours in the bunk, to try to recharge the weary bones and stressed, aching muscles.
But, with the DTF miles counting down nicely and memories of southern storms, soaring albatross, and the south’s endless pallid, grey chill packed away with the extra thermals, balaclavas, gloves and thick socks, so the F Word inevitably bobs into conversations:
“We also want to finish for our sponsor Estrella Damm, because we know that it is important to them," said Estrella Damm’s Alex Pella today. "And I personally, can’t wait to come back to Barcelona, to my city, to our people, to the welcome ... now Pepe and I are very excited to think we will be able to finish the course."
100 or so miles to the NE, aboard Estrella Damm’s nearest rival, Ryan Breymaier also uses the F Word, the not the expletive that the Annapolis bred co-skipper might just have let slip a few times over the last 11 weeks at sea: “For sure you are aware the finish gets closer each day, it’s feeling like that more and more, honestly I am pretty ready to be done! I am really, really pleased with the weather systems we have. It is going to enable us to get up this South Atlantic very quickly and that is great for me. We are definitely savouring the moments as they pass, moments of bliss, of the weather we have got right now, it makes the icing on the cake. I just hope the North Atlantic treats us as well as the South Atlantic is treating us right now.”
Breymaier continued: “To be honest I have not paid too much attention to Renault, I know they are quite a way ahead of us and are going to slow, but I have been busy trying to make sure we stay ahead of this red boat behind us because I am very afraid about them. If their boat is at 100% they should be faster than us. The weather situation is super, super good. It will be good to have a few days of nice reaching conditions then we have our own little nasty transition of our own, as well when this all ends. We have a bit of a hole for a while and then the trades may be established for a while and then straight into the Doldrums. Hopefully, hopefully the Doldrums calm down, hopefully hopefully this transition goes well for and maybe we will still be ahead, maybe even a bit further ahead. We need every mile we can get to be in front of those guys to be sure.
"We are trying to recover from our days of exhaustion, Boris is in the bunk, sleeping and letting the boat do its thing. The boat is perfectly capable of handling itself at the moment. Right now to be honest I am not sure what is making the difference, the hull form is quite okay when you have this rolling swell, it is just when it gets super flat that we suffer. Other than that we have a very, very low drag nice keel, a huge sail plan which helps right now, we are only sailing with genoa and main we don’t have a gennaker up, and the boat is sailing at a very high percentage of its polars, it is easily driven, under water all the appendages are low drag and we just can take advantage of having a nice sailplan.
"For sure it feeling like that more and more, honestly I am pretty ready to be done! I am really, really pleased with the weather systems we have. It is going to enable us to get up this South Atlantic very quickly and that is great for me. We are definitely savouring the moments as they pass, moments of bliss, of the weather we have got right now, it makes the icing on the cake. I just hope the North Atlantic treats us as well as the South Atlantic is treating us right now.
"I think this has been a bit of a wake up in the US, for this all to happen, and I think every body is very pleased to see it, and I hope I am opening the door for other people to get involved. I think we had Jonathan McKee before but his project hit 'technical problems' and stuff like that. I really hope we can get Americans over to France to get into this scene and to get moving. If one day we could have one or two or three IMOCA Open 60s in the USA, that would be incredible for me, especially as I might have had a part in starting it.”
The F-Word is very much at the top of agendas from City Hall to the Barceloneta streets and beachside walkways, where everyone it seems wants to know when the boats will be finishing.
But, in fact, Pella answers that question succinctly: "We have three variable areas ahead: one off Cabo Frio, a quiet transition zone, then the Doldrums and then the Mediterranean, which can be very variable. This makes it very difficult to estimate the date of finishing.”
Otherwise, Pella adds: "It's a sunny day, great, under spinnaker, staysail and the full main. We’ve had about 24 hours of downwind conditions now, it was a long time since we had these perfect conditions, after the storm passed the other day. This is the life! We were able to fix the hook yesterday. It was not a complicated repair itself, but to get up the mast we needed to have flatter seas. This was impossible in the midst of the storm and we lost so many miles. But it is solved and we hope it will not happen again. Let’s see if we're lucky, because every time we're in the rhythm something happens to us, like the other day with the staysail. We were very close to Neutrogena and even overtook them, and then that happened and it cost us a hundred miles. Renault Z.E. is way ahead, there will be many accordions (closing up and opening again).
"We come from a position a long time ago now, a very strange situation since we stopped in New Zealand, with everything that happened, the cyclone and our injuries... But we are very pleased to have two boats around and knowing that there will be many options that are ahead. We have plenty to play for eat some miles and stress them a little.
"We have three variable areas ahead: one in front of Cabo Frio, a quiet zone, then the Doldrums and the Mediterranean, which can be very variable. This makes it very difficult to estimate the date of arrival.
The two red hulled IMOCA Open 60s have been enjoying red carpet conditions, but both equally aware that every little mile makes a difference during this stage of their ascent up the Atlantic. But for Pachi Rivero and Toño Piris on Renault Z.E the opportunity to build their cushion during the last 24 hours, to bank an extra 20-25 miles on the pursuing duo. They are expected to hit a transition zone of light airs first, perhaps even by tomorrow morning, and any extra margin is additional insulation as Neutrogena and Estrella Damm are forecast to hold the fast downwind conditions for longer. Indeed this afternoon it is the two red devils both making 17.5 to 17.8 kts which are quickest in the fleet.
For Hugo Boss’ Andy Meiklejohn and Wouter Verbraak there is the disappointment of knowing that 48 hours of constant hard work since they stopped, trying to make their repairs independently in the Falklands, has not been enough. They will have to wait now for the arrival of their shore team members who were due to fly to the remote South Atlantic Archipelago today (Wednesday) on the one scheduled flight per week from RAF Brize Norton in England. The duo were staying at sea, off the east coast of East Falkland, before an expected rendezvous with their team off Stanley, the Islands’ capital.
At the front of the fleet Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez on Mapfre have just started to feel their first hints of their own Doldrums slowdown, but not before they have clawed back 137 miles on the race leaders Virbac-Paprec 3 who are 323 miles ahead.
Fernandez reported: "Here we are making 11 knots or so. We are at 300 nm of distance from the leaders. . In a way, we expected this accordion effect once again, but we have to sail in the Doldrums also… I guess we will keep gaining miles during the next few hours but then we will stop also, so we will see how we can manage it. The important thing here is seeing where the French pair is and also where we are immediately alter the Doldrums because maybe they are almost leaving the Doldrums now and we have not faced them yet…
"We are trying to rest as much as possible since we are very tired, but fine. Being able to sleep for a few hours is a godsend! Besides, we are saving some food… But we are fine, looking forward to leave the Doldrums behind us and see what happens then… Afterwards, we will have to sail upwind like crazies! Being honest, we are very much looking forward to the finish in Barcelona… At least the sun is shining now… We can even take some consolation from that.”