Sting in the tail
Huddled in thermals, blearily rubbing his eyes with tiredness, Ludovic Aglaor, the co-skipper of Forum Maritim Catala today illustrated how rounding Cape Horn does not necessarily equate to hitting the home stretch in the Barcelona World Race.
The French skipper and his team mate Gerard Marin reported that they had been caught up in the most severe storm of the competition last night. "It seems to be calming down a bit," recounted Aglaor. "Since yesterday evening, we had 60 knots of wind and it’s been really severely cold. A huge squall has arrived again so I’ve just taken down the solent – we did not anticipate that this would be so hard and so long! Last night we were sailing under bare poles. Only the tip of the mainsail remained while we had four reefs in. At around 2200h (UTC) it increased to 60 knots, pushing us really hard!
“It is true that we are still in the Deep South but the Falklands is a corner where depressions are active and these are the strongest conditions we’ve had on our circumnavigation.
“Early last night, the sea was good, because it hadn’t had time to build up but it has increased a lot this morning. It’s not breaking, but the waves are quite short and it feels like there are deep troughs of around 8-10 metres deep really close to each other that are not easy to negotiate! I once experienced a gale like this in my naval career, around the Azores in between seasons which was really very heavy. Normally within the next few hours it should calm down and then there will be another front that we need to negotiate because we mustn’t stay too close to the American coast where it will be sudden stop-starts between the two fronts...!
“I'm tired, because the conditions have been varied and changing from Wellington. We restocked a little food in Wellington. It's been very tiring in such a long period of cold and soon we'll pick up a little sun it will be better for the body, we have not had too many chances to rest, but should do by 10° North, which will happen soon.”
The severe conditions were corroborated by nearby Hugo Boss. “Last night has been pretty intense with the strongest winds we have seen so far in the race. Storm force winds, squalls with 52 knot gusts and short choppy seas meant that we have been glued to the wheel all night,” Wouter Verbraak reported today by email.
While Forum Maritim Catala seem to have experienced the worst of conditions, Hugo Boss were able to harness some of the strong winds to make 16 knots earlier this morning, and have now pulled 277 miles ahead in seventh place.
The far southerly latitudes of the Pacific and Indian Oceans may be rightly feared for the large depressions which can form and roll, uninterrupted by land, around the base of the planet, a young Atlantic depression such as this one can also bring chaotic conditions. Being less than 24-hours formed, this low pressure storm is more compact, and features abrupt changes in force and direction leading to a confused and short sea state.
A Southern Ocean low is also advancing towards We Are Water in the eastern Pacific, who look set to experience 50-60 knot wind speeds from tomorrow. Currently 950 miles from Cape Horn, Jaume Mumbru and Cali Sanmarti are likely to be overcome by the east-moving depression in the next 24 hours, but released from it before the reach the tip of South America.
The third Doldrums
Dripping with sweat even in shorts, with the sails flapping on deck, it was a very different picture for Antoñio Piris today. The third boat to enter the Doldrums, Renault Z.E. has crept out of the light airs of the poorly established southerly trades, into the unpredictable and equally light breezes of the ITCZ.
Behind them Estrella Damm and Neutrogena have escaped the lightest breezes and are now back in double digit figures, with Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes pulling ahead to lead by 38 miles in fourth.
Piris reported: “The Doldrums are, well… we’ve been having pre-pre Doldrums, pre-Doldrums, and now Doldrums! So for me they’ve been the longest and the widest that I’ve ever done. They’re frustrating because we’re leading a pack and we’re always looking behind with a little bit of fear of the guys at the back having a little bit more wind and us thinking we’re going through this too slowly. So the feeling is that we’re sticking, and we’re not going through the water as fast as we’d like.
“The forecast around this area is difficult to feel confident about because it’s a difficult area to predict. The prediction is there for you to compare with reality, but lately the GRIBs are always more optimistic that reality.
“We can’t wait to get through and get some fresh wind because now the wind is changing every minute. We can’t stop changing the sails and the course of the boat and adjusting everything because the wind is very shifty, and it’s very easy to have a slow boat and it’s very difficult to get it going again. So it’s tense days, tense moments and we can’t wait to get out of here.
“We’re both fine. We’re eating well, we’re sleeping well and physically okay. It’s just when the breeze comes we breathe a little bit better! It’s not cold, that’s for sure. Now the sea temperature is 28 degrees, so you throw a couple of buckets over you and it’s not doing much to cool you. But luckily we brought with us a little fan we can point to the bunk while we sleep so we can rest a little bit better.
“The boat is fine, we had some issues with some blocks in the mast and some pieces that are already repaired and little jobs on the sails. We did some maintenance and we’re ready for some higher winds, now the boat is good shape. We have enough diesel for our energy supply and the food is there is there for us to finish, so we don’t feel like we’re lacking anything to do a good sprint.”
The tension of looking behind was also evident for race leaders Virbac Paprec 3 today, as Loick Peyron (FRA) admitted to “pleading in front of the computer like a muppet!” every time a position report came in. The French leading duo have added just 17 miles to their advantage over Mapfre in the past 24 hours, as Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez pile on the pressure.
“Right now we are west of the Cape Verde islands, fighting against a very light trade wind system, upwind on starboard for the last three days and for the next week. All week next week, until we pass Gibraltar, we’re going to be upwind. Right now it’s quite cool because we don’t have to tack for the past three days, and for the next two or three maybe, but after that we have to manage the high pressure which is just in front of us to the north. As we all know there are two ways to pass a high pressure, or two sides I should say, and we have to choose one side, in a few days, but you are not going to know what side we’re going to choose, that’s for sure!
“The weather is not very nice to reach Barcelona very quick. It’s going to be very slow because we’re sure to fight against the wind until Gibraltar, and you know when you’re beating against the wind like that it’s two times the length and three times the pain, so it’s not very easy. And after that the last information about the weather in the first part of the Mediterranean after Gibraltar seems that we are going to beat again, against the wind, so it’s not going to be very fast. But there’s no problem with that, we just need to finish, and to finish a few seconds before the second!”