65 knots in Strait of Gibraltar
In training, training races and deliveries to and from races on Estrella Damm, Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes sailed more than 30,000 miles and must have passed through the Straits of Gibraltar a dozen times.
Even across those accumulated preparatory miles, plus all of the 28,500 or so racing miles that they will have sailed on this Barcelona World Race course itself over the last three months, it has been some of the final miles, passing through the notorious Straits of Gibraltar in into the Alboran Sea, 520 miles from the finish that have been their biggest test.
To cross their threshold back into the Mediterranean - their home waters where they first stepped into a boat and later sailed their first offshore miles - have been some of the toughest and most stressful for their tired boat and the Barcelona based duo.
Talk about a welcome home?
Ribes, who has completed three Volvo Ocean Races, reported: "Crossing the Strait was tough, we had 40 knots and even at Espartel we had seen two big tugs just waiting in case there were any problems. We had huge waves and the wind bang on the nose. It was by far the worst day of our round the world race. We had 65 knots and some big gusts as we got closer to the coast. We could not tack with those 60 knots and so we learned how to gybe in 60 knots with the storm jib and four reefs in the mainsail.
"We are on the Spanish coast now and will pass Cabo Gata in a few hours. We still have lots of big waves. The boat has taken a real punishment and we try to make short tacks close to the shore because here we have 35-40 knots of wind here and there is 45-50 knots further offshore. It is amazing the difference that seven or so miles offshore makes. We had five metre waves and they were vertical at the back so we were dropping off them.
"Tarifa traffic were great. They communicated with a big merchant ship to move off our route because we could not tack. We had the main down and all of a sudden we could not tack. So Tarifa traffic managed to get the boat to change their course. We are sticking to the shore a bit just now. Here we can make 10 knots of boat speed and offshore it is only 8-9 knots.
"These conditions are the worst that we could get here for the boat. The boat really is suffering a lot, so we really are keeping a close eye on it. It has been worse than Atu. Then we could bear away to make the boat feel better but here we could not. We are not thinking about home and family yet, we are only thinking about Cabo Gata and to see if after that we can feel a bit more comfortable.
“We have had better days! Yesterday the conditions in the Strait were storm force winds, Easterly winds with a forecast 47 knots for eight hours, which was a shame because it was true for the whole day. We went upwind with four reefs and storm jib and especially off Espartel we had one hour of 55 knots and then a squall came again in the middle of the Strait where we had 60-65 kts, all the time it was 45 solid. When you are sailing and the wind drops to 40 and you feel comfortable that is a problem! The first time that you have to tack and you can’t do anything, we escaped but for a while we thought we were going back. It was the worst day for the boat and for us, after going around the world, it is the Strait of Gibraltar.”
Renault Z.E’s Toño Piris reported that their passage of the Alboran had been marginally better, other than a rather too close encounter with a merchant ship, but the Santander co-skipper looked confident and relaxed as they close their final miles to Barcelona, to what should be third, completing the race podium for this second edition.
Piris reported: “It has been quite a tough end to a tough race because of the rough winds we have had and the big seas since the Straits and we did not think we would have this. We got to the Strait very comfortably with good winds and sea but in the strait the wind came from ahead at 25 knots, but it was still not too bad. After the strait we had a few calm areas close to the shore, but really we did not lose too much. When we went out to sea we got more wind and seas when we got close to Cabo Gata. And by Algeciras we changed to the storm jib to play very safe since Estrella Damm is close. We haven’t used the sail at all in the race, it was the first time. This is a very complicated area. In fact conditions are the opposite to the way out when we had no wind, the only thing the same is there is still snow on the Sierra Nevada.
"We are looking forward to getting to Barcelona and are keeping an eye on Estrella Damm. We have a bit of a cushion but it is not that big. We are crashing into the waves all the time just now, but it’s a bit better than last night which was horrible around Gata. We think we will cross between Ibiza and the peninsula but there are two routings which send us in different ways.”
Renault Z.E Sailing Team’s Pacho Rivero will be the second skipper who completed the first race to finish on the podium after double winner Jean-Pierre Dick. They are expected to cross the finish line off the W-Hotel during the early hours of Friday morning local time at 0200-0400 GMT.
With less than 230 miles to sail to the finish, this afternoon Renault Z.E Sailing Team were 142 miles ahead of Estrella Damm having banked an extra ten miles on their Barcelona rivals. Their biggest uncertainty will be which side to pass of Ibiza, but knowing that from north of the Balearics they face a light winds zone to the finish.
And perhaps for Pella and Ribes there might be the chance to route west to salute Ribes’ family and friends who border their upwind routing, in the coastal town of Calpe, where Pepe grew up and Pella also has close friends?
Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella were making their choices today on GAES Centros Auditivos whether to pass north or south of Madeira, but they may be gifted a fast passage into the Straits, perhaps shaping up to be the first boat to race downwind past Gibraltar in the Poniente northwesterly wind.