Trade winds finally
As the IMOCA 60 fleet slide into the second week of the Transat Jacques Vabre, the race is on again as the whole nine boat fleet start to enjoy some trade winds sailing.
Even if they have remained a fitful and shifty, after 36 hours rooted to a high pressure system, the five boat group to the south is off and racing again into decent breeze, trying to close to down the miles that they have lost, especially to the runaway duo Virbac-Paprec 3 and Hugo Boss.
Virbac-Paprec 3’s co-skipper Jérémie Beyou and Hugo Boss’ Guillermo Altadill spoke today, confident of the gap of nearly 200 miles they have opened to the third placed underdogs, France’s Burton brothers who have bounced up the leaderboard, passing Mike Golding and Bruno Dubois on Gamesa this morning.
“It is going well, we are making 15 knots under gennaker and we are sliding along quite nicely," reported Beyou. "And in a couple of hours we will be under big spinnaker and sending it. Tonight the breeze will clock around to the SE and we will be at full speed for the West Indies. It is cool now, because we have had three or four days where it has all gone like we expected and the classifications tell the story of our choices. It is great now, relatively flat seas.”
From on board Hugo Boss, Guillermo Altadill said: “The wind is good now and has been lifting so we have been sailing with almost downwind conditions and so it has been nice and easy compared to what we had. It is hot and sunny. Now after the first week we come back to more or less a watch system, normal and it is easy now compared to last week. Alex and I are very happy with what we have done, coming out of the storms with no damage. We know that Virbac-Paprec is a little faster than us in these conditions so we try to follow him, but I think it is more difficult for them. having somebody behind them by only twenty or thirty miles. There is always the potential for surprises. We were very close to them 24 hours ago, we were only three or four miles away, but we could not see them very clearly.”
But between the race leader of the 21 remaining competing boats, Actual, forging her way downwind in the trade winds and the last Class 40 there is now 1400 miles of ocean. And in each of the three classes the differentials are starting to have an ominous look. In the Multi 50’s the match between Actual and Maitre Jacques is now separated by 400 miles, in the IMOCA Open 60s it is 200 and in the Class 40 it is 100.
In the IMOCA fleet it is something of a topsy turvy world compared to the last edition in 2009 when Safran and Groupe Bel ran away into the trades with Ecover 3 (now Gamesa) giving chase. Ironically Safran – which won in 2009 – are ninth and Groupe Bel eighth sharing a 350 miles deficit to Dick and Beyou.
Perhaps the unlikeliest story is that of the Burton brothers Louis and Nelson (who have a Welsh father). They have worked long and hard with their budget go buy Farr design which was formerly Delta Dore which they only re-launched in August. Profiting from a northerly route they have been able to skirt the worst of the high and get past Gamesa to third.
From Gamesa skipper Mike Golding reported: “We are still recovering from the first week of sailing which was pretty tough. We did kind of celebrate our way into trade winds, even if it is a little premature with some red wine and saucisson. We are both good, the boat was in for a big refit and so to come on to the boat into these conditions was a bit of a shock to our systems. Now that week is behind us we are looking at a more enjoyable second part of the race, if not quite champagne sailing then at least some nice sailing.
“At the moment it is still difficult to call whether we will be able to hold on to our miles or whether they will come. Things do have a nasty habit of turning around, but our big question is what - if anything - can we do to close up on the lead pair. But our problem remains no fleet broadband so the files we can download are very small and short. So in fact I don’t have a very clear long term weather forecast. Now we have dealt with the ridge then we can look further afield and try and get a clearer picture.
“I am not being glib but this has been pretty much as I expected. The reality is there are always lots of issues to deal with, things you can improve. But fundamentally the boat is sound and I think was a bit surprised at the beginning that we initially were worried we had a boat speed issue but when I look back on it, it was actually our lack of training which set us back at the beginning.”
There was reason for cheer as Britain had two IMOCA Open 60s in the top three on the early morning rankings. No sooner had Gamesa been replaced by Burtons’ Bureau Vallée, than Hannah Jenner with American co-skipper Jesse Naimark-Rowse aboard 40 Degrees took over third in the Class 40, emerging from their final storm of the race – they hope – to joust with Groupe Picoty for third. The French stalwarts had returned to third on the afternoon rankings.
“We had one hell of a night but we are here in the process of drying out, cleaning up and enjoying the sailing again," said Jenner this afternoon. " We spent a lot of yesterday afternoon and the night in 45-50kts of wind with a massive sea state. It was pretty wild. The boat held up fine, there was a lot of slamming but we checked it regularly, there was no signs of any damage to the boat, we are both quite tired now but it is nice to be sailing rather than surviving.
"Finally our gambles have paid off. Yesterday Jesse said we are either going to wake up in 24 hours looking like heroes or looking like idiots, so luckily we are looking good. The sun is shining, we have 23kts of wind, are reaching along, we still have quite a lumpy sea just passing the final Azores island to our port side and we are looking forwards to the conveyor belt to the south west to Costa Rica. Chocolate is an absolute necessity, we could not survive without it.
"We are looking now at some reasonable reaching and downwind conditions. The boat is reasonable in them, so we are going to sail as hard and fast as we can on our nearest rivals and try and catch up on the leaders.
“I think there is always an element of luck in getting through the bad conditions, but 40 Degrees is a very strong boat. She did a tough Route du Chocolat a couple of years ago and came out the other side. We made sure we reefed as early as possible. We got caught in the first front and ended up flat on our side, and perhaps hand steering as much as we can to try and prevent slamming. Just things like that.”
Meanwhile Class 40 leaders Yannick Bestaven and Eric Drouglazet on Aquarelle.com, are unrelenting in their drive to increase their lead on ERDF des Pieds et des Mains (over 110 miles). But for a real tussle you need look no further than Picoty Group, 40 Degrees and Phoenix Express Europe vying for third place. But the good news for all still racing is to have the worst of the weather systems behind them.
The stress and hard work of the last eight days have taken their toll. Sleep has been worked into the routines in each class. Eric Drouglazet recounted his nightmares where the boat slams into huge waves, the Burton brothers have been able to get six or seven hours in a row and Kito de Pavant hit the sack in a ‘coma’ for three hours. “It was like a coma for three hours, out cold," he recounted. "It took Yann an hour to wake me up. He is sleeping now and I think it would take an earthquake to wake him up.”
Top three standings at 1700 CET
1 - Virbac Paprec 3 (Jean-Pierre Dick - Jérémie Beyou) : 2443,7 milles to finish
2 - Hugo Boss (Alex Thomson - Guillermo Altadill) : 27 milles to leader
3 - Bureau Vallée (Louis Burton - Nelson Burton) : 224,5 milles to leader
1 - Actual (Yves Le Blevec - Samuel Manuard) : 2921,2 milles to finish
2 - Maitre Jacques (Loïc Fequet - Loïc Escoffier) : 391,3 milles to leader
1 - Aquarelle.com (Yannick Bestaven - Eric Drouglazet) : 3154,4 milles to finish
2 - ERDF Des Pieds et des Mains (Damien Seguin - Yoann Richomme) : 112,7 milles to leader
3 - Groupe Picoty (Jacques Fournier - Jean-Christophe Caso) : 184,2 milles to leader