Virbac-Paprec 3 goes stealth

As We Are Water expect F12 in the Southern Ocean in the Barcelona World Race

Thursday March 24th 2011, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

‘Let’s play!’ commented Loick Peyron and Jean-Pierre Dick from Virbac-Paprec 3 this morning as they entered ‘stealth’ mode at 1000 (GMT). Their position or rankings will not be visible for 36 hours, ensuring that their movements will remain hidden from view by the fleet but particularly nearest rivals Mapfre.

Tactically the forthcoming upwind section of Atlantic raises an interesting dilemma for the front-runners, and particularly for Mapfre, 244 miles behind in this morning’s 0500 position report. The Azores High is expanding east-west across the north Atlantic, creating a large obstacle on the way to the Mediterranean. Whilst taking a westerly route looks like an unworkable tactic given the considerable extra mileage involved, the issue of when to tack east to avoid the centre of the anticyclone remains uncertain.

The GRIB files show stronger winds near the coast so by tacking early towards North Africa they will reach better pressure soonest, but will be sailing an unfavorable angle for longer. Carry on heading north as long as they dare and they will benefit from lifting pressure, but are at risk of getting trapped by the light winds at the centre of the high, while taking a ‘middle road’ between the two means avoiding the light winds in the lee of the Canary Islands. When to tack in, and when to tack back out? Timing will be everything, and by selecting stealth mode Virbac-Paprec 3 are hiding the clues for Mapfre.

Battening the hatches

The situation is more serious on We Are Water. “The barometer has gone down to 956mb. We are preparing for the worst possible scenario,” emailed Jaume Mumbru (ESP) this morning, as he and Cali Sanmarti prepared to ride out what Barcelona World Race meteorologist Marcel van Triest predicted could be the worst Southern Ocean storm of the race due to a deep low pressure system.

The weather forecast for the area they are sailing in for the next 18 hours is severe: a southwesterly gale of 45-60 knots, gusting 75: a Force 12. In conjunction with the strong winds, huge seas are also predicted with a 9-12 metre swell. Heavy rain, squalls, and even snow are all likely as the winds are blowing directly from Antarctica, bringing bitingly cold dense air which makes the conditions all the more intense.

Jaume Mumbru reported from the boat around 1500hrs this afternoon that they were running away from the gale under storm jib only with zero mainsail, in around 55 knot (63mph or 101 km/h) winds. The pair were safely inside the boat, which was making around 11 knots in a northeasterly direction, and reported that although conditions were intensely cold, the wave pattern was better than anticipated with no confused cross-seas.

Battle for bronze

Just 118 miles divide the third to fifth-placed boats this afternoon as Renault Z.E., Estrella Damm and Neutrogena sweat it out in the Doldrums, where temperatures are soaring to over 30 degrees inside, making sleep during daytime almost impossible for some.

Renault Z.E. became the third boat to re-enter the northern hemisphere at 1445 GMT this afternoon, in what so far appears to be a relatively benign Doldrums crossing. Just 76 miles behind, Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes remain solid in fourth, ahead of Ryan Breymaier and Boris Herrmann on Neutrogena.

Ryan Breymaier reported today: “The Doldrums are going very well thus far, knock on wood. We have between 5 and 10 knots out of the breeze and it’s not stopped yet, so hopefully that continues.

“In these lighter conditions we’re not as compromised as we will be later on when there’s more wind and waves, so we’re pretty happy to be keeping up now and are differently worried about what’s going to happen when we get into the stronger upwind trade wind conditions a little later on. There is no real plan for it, the boat is the condition that it’s in and we do the best we can with what we have. At the moment that’s what we’re doing and that’s what we’re going to continue to do – you know you can’t change reality, and the reality is we are not capable to cant the keel to the maximum and that compromises our speed all the time, Boris and I have accepted that and we just get on with our day to day work.

“The sun is an issue every day. Right now in the cabin it’s 32 degrees and outside it’s probably 36, I don’t know – a lot! For me more than Boris I get burned very easily and I have factor 50 suncream at least every day and wear hats and that kind of stuff, so it’s a real problem for sure, especially in this area. I would’ve told you six weeks ago that the heat really bothered me a lot, but it was awfully cold down in the south for a long period of time! But all things considered though I would say the heat is worse than the cold though, and I think Boris agrees with me.”

At 535 miles behind, Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella on GAES Centros Auditivos are also anticipating the light winds, as they require flat water to make laminating repairs to their leaking ballast tank. Instead they have experienced fluctuating and unpredictable breezes.

“It’s like a practice for the Doldrums that we’ve had," described Dee. "It’s a bit frustrating because we still can’t sail the boat at 100 per cent because we’re waiting to do the big repair, and yet we’re still really struggling with the conditions. But today’s been much better. I need to laminate some carbon over some damage in our ballast tanks that are structural to the boat. So we can’t sail the boat at 100 per cent because we’re upwind and we can’t afford the cracks to open up. But we can’t do the repair unless we’re in flat water to allow it to stick, so it’s a case of really looking after the boat.”

Having exited yesterday’s brief but fierce low pressure system, Forum Maritim Catala and Hugo Boss are the fastest of the fleet over the past 24 hours, with just under 200 miles dividing the pair. With the depression having rapidly moved southeast, the race is now on for both to make sufficient ground north to avoid the chasing high and accompanying light winds. Forum Maritim Catala having gained over 80 miles on Hugo Boss over the past 24 hours, and the competition between the two is yet to be settled.


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