"The best drivers are those who brake skillfully, not those who accelerate fast"
Just as it did in 2008, the at times malicious Straits of Gibraltar did not offer an easy passage to Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron as they guided Virbac-Paprec 3 back into the Mediterranean early this morning, returning into the teeth of 40 knots of Levant easterly wind, funnelling through the passage.
It may be one of the final hurdles for the French duo to negotiate, but it was one which demanded absolute respect and prudence, Loïck Peyron reported this morning, after an exhausting night. Their mode is that of the express delivery of a tired boat and wearied crew and they were taking no risks as the Strait dealt them one final gale and the busy shipping lanes required extra vigilance, making it one of the most demanding challenges from their 91 days of racing so far.
Loick Peyron repored: “The passage of Gibraltar was hard .We'll get some sleep now to recover from the night. It was some of the worst times with the boat since we left. We had a lot of wind - 40 knots with a short sea, which could break things. And it is still the same in the Alboran. What a welcome to the Mediterranean which sometimes has the worst sea conditions. It is lovely for swimming but not for sailing when you have the wind on the nose. And that has been the case for 15 days. That has been a little too long. We are upwind, upwind, upwind... And at the moment we are slamming a lot still. And as I speak I am checking out the small window for ships to make sure we don’t hit one or two because we are right in the middle of the shipping lanes. It is slamming and it hurts the boat, and when it hurts the boat, it hurts us. It is difficult for the boat, she has suffered a lot, as much now as it has at any point in the last three months. Upwind is not very good for the structure of the boat, but in fact it is difficult to relieve it. If we slow down it is not doing any good, when we slow down it is not pressed enough and the boat slams even more. So it is difficult to get the right balance, it is a compromise between the cant angle of the keel, the ballast, and to keep up some speed. We are in fast delivery mode, which is not compromising. The best drivers are those who brake skillfully, not those who accelerate fast.
"Our first technical assessment is good. What was obvious or needed to be changed required us to make two stops: in Brazil for our main traveler track torn off, and the second in Wellington for the mainsail batten cars. Since then there is no problem at all until two days ago when the keel moved but it turned out to be a small electronic problem with the terminal box which had worked loose a bit and meant some poor connections everywhere.
"We passed close to the Moroccan coast for a change of scene, but more especially to protect us from the waves. Often it was not enough because we were offshore quickly.
"The start of the night was very cool, we shaved Cape Espartel on the northwest corner of Morocco which I know well. My dad was born in Tangier. There are many memories of our childhood there. We used to walk out to this Cape when we were small. So it was a little like a return to my roots in a way. We used to walk out to see the sea and here I am now on that ocean. We passed within a few metres in the middle of the night, it was very nice.
"We have talked a lot about things. I am a tweaker and a fiddler, always adjusting. To make progress with a boat which is born well is exciting, but the Virbac-Paprec team will do a good job with this. We noted a few small things, not pages though. There are some things which we can’t rely on and would have concerns. The marks on a new boat which has made a round the world passage tell their own tales, more interesting than a new boat. A boat which has lived a bit speaks volumes. But you have to analyse the marks and traces.
"To sail as a duo over this distance is interesting. Sometimes it feels a little long, as a duo rather than solo. The escape is often sleep, and you sleep so much better as a duo than solo.
"I know more than others what its like to live this close over three months. Damian Foxall could tell you as much. We are two to have lived so closely with our national hero JP. He is an astonishing guy."
Their passage of the Alboran sea was offering little relief, but by Saturday afternoon off Almeria and the Cabo de Gata point, the French duo should see their upwind conditions start to ease. And the final stretch from the Balearics’ latitude could slow for the final 175 miles. Best estimates formed from the current weather models have Dick and Peyron breaking the finish line Monday morning.
For the pursuing duo there is the reality of lighter winds forecast for their passage of Gibraltar, but for Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez on Mapfre missing out on Spain’s premier Olympic regatta, Palma’s annual Princess Sofia Trophy.
Asked about whether their future plans would include the 2012 Olympics, he said: “You will all know soon enough. In a short time we will talk about our plans for the Olympics, we will talk about them in Barcelona. And we will tell you then.”
As to their present state Fernandez said: "We are sailing with 12-15 knots from the ESE and finally we are done with the big waves and we are making 12 knots of speed, the waves have been with us all of the Moroccan coast and the Canaries and it was a worry for us, because of all the slamming which is not good for the boat. But now we are a bit more relaxed. Tomorrow we should get to Gibraltar and perhaps in Barcelona on the fifth. But of course that depends on the forecast and what happens in the Med. Let's see if we get some good breeze in the Med, because we could also end up stuck. It looks like early on, just after Gibraltar we may find ourselves with very little breeze, but it looks like after that we'll get some good breeze coming in from behind and we could get there on the fourth in the afternoon or on the fifth in the morning. We'll have to see, because as everyone knows, these things can get tricky, but we hope to at get there at least by the fifth.
“We are very excited and look forward to getting home. We are tired and it has been a long time out here.”