40 knots on the nose

Virbac-Paprec crew hanging on on the long slog to Gibraltar

Tuesday March 29th 2011, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: none selected

Sounding slightly anxious this morning, Jean-Pierre Dick admitted that he and Loïck Peyron have one last blast of strong winds and agitated seas to endure before the challenges of Gibraltar, where the 2007-8 Barcelona World Race winning skipper confirms that he expects to pass overnight on Thursday-Friday this week. He is leaving nothing to chance, and will be remaining extra vigilant through the spell of strong winds which are set to top 40 knots, as Virbac-Paprec 3 closes directly on Essaouira on the Moroccan coast.

Today Dick and Peyron passed under the 1000 miles to the finish mark, but with the boat slamming into the short seas, and the winds set to build, the French duo were in conservation mode, perhaps paying little heed to the fact that their lead over Mapfre increased to over 310 miles this afternoon while the Spanish duo Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez were slowed as they set up to pass to the south of La Palma, in the Canary Islands, losing speed in the shifty, more unsettled breezes. Mapfre's average this afternoon had dropped to 5.4 knots compared with Virbac-Paprec 3 at just under 10 knots.

Dick reported: “It is quite rough with a short sea and so we try to get thorugh this gale in good shape. We need to be in this area and get through it because at this level of racing you cant avoid it, there is a big advantage in getting to the Moroccan coast. We will see at up to 40 knots of wind, the objective is just to get through. We have checked everything and will take in the reefs but it is stressing. We are usually inside as much as we can because there is a lot of water across the deck. The last time in Gibraltar it was windy too and it is always impressive between the cargo ships and you really need to always pay attention in both directions. But we are feeling a bit vulnerable at this stage, and so you have to always be aware of the dangers of the course. And one of the sayings of the sailor, it will be finished when we finish.

"We can’t even predict the ETA even with the best files. But on the night of the 31 we should pass Gibraltar and then up the Mediterranean is a bit fuzzy. We can go fast until then but probably finish between the 3rd and 5th April. We are in good shape physically.

"We are keen to be finished, and look forward to it. We like being at sea, but we will be glad to have the comforts of dry land. Three months of camping has its limits. When I get back my son will be seven months. And it will be interesting. I have had photographs and he does not look like he did. I don’t know how he will react. He has not seen me for three months. It is something which will happen of course, but I am a little nervous of how he will react.”

While Dick and Peyron were getting to grips with the prospect of their final gale, their 24 hours distance record set on 22 January was ratified by the WSSRC at 506.33 miles.

For both of the leaders the wind prospects still show headwinds all the way through the Straits of Gibraltar, with a possible reprise of the strong Easterly Levante wind which slowed Paprec-Virbac 2 en route to her victory in February 2008.

The all-Spanish duel for third heats up with a sole strategic option falling to Renault Z.E Sailing Team’s Pachi Rivero and Toño Piris. For them there is a chance to cross the ridge of high pressure to get to more favourable northwester or northerly winds which are expected to develop, but their gamble is how light the winds in the ridge will actually be. Alternatively they can choose to stay east and protect their position, staying where they can stay ahead of Estrella Damm, following the classic tactic of keeping between the opposition and the mark. So do Renault Z.E Sailing Team twist, and push north, or stick – but risk losing some of their 160 miles cushion to their rivals Pepe Ribes and Alex Pella.

Antonio Piris reported: “We have the reefed main and Solent and the boat is making good speed which is important. We don’t know when we will go to the east, tacking or maybe we will do something different. We see there is the option of going more north west and making a bigger curve which would be more effective and save us some tacks.

"As far as ghost mode goes we don’t really have a big interest in it, for us we thought about it but kind of figure that if we go for it then the others would follow suit, and for us just now it is more important to see those who are chasing us, unless of course Estrella Damm did it first. And we don’t have much left to the Canaries and you have to use it before then.

"You do know all the noises that the boat makes by now, and yes, some noises changes but there is nothing that really worries us. All the problems we have had we have managed to deal with ourselves. Pachi knows the boat so well and what I have in boatbuilding skills we have managed to sort out, so now we are hoping we can get the dividend for all of these months of work. Our ETA for Gibraltar? I think 4th April is early, but it depends, if we get the more northerly wind early then we might get there quicker.

While Alex Pella on fourth placed Estrella Damm said: "They have a pretty good advantage ahead, but we do try to keep an eye on the boats round is, but mostly Renault which would be the next boat we try and pass. But at the moment we are going upwind and we know that they are faster than us and they have a significant lead. It will be difficult to pass them but we are never giving up hope. We’ll keep pushing and it makes the race more exciting.

"According to the forecast we think it will be hard upwind to the Strait and so we have cracked the sails a little bit, the wind was from 40-50°, now it is more like 70-80°. And the boat is starting to feel a bit tired so we really don’t want to push it too hard. Noises change on the boat and sometimes you talk about new ones. And if you feel something is not normal then we especially discuss it.

"The new boats always evolve and are expected to go quicker and of course JP and Loïck have a lot of experience between them, and that covers materials, sails and going fast. But the boat is very quick and has great potential. Even with their two stops they did not really lose time, but when you do a race like this with a new boat, often you have problems with the equipment and the problems are reliability, as happened for Foncia, but not so much for them. But in general it is amazing to see how they sail.

Jaume Mumbru and Cali Sanmarti were very close to Ushuaia on We Are Water, preparing for their technical stop to repair their boom which they broke on 25 March.

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