Benoit Stichelbaut / Transat B to B

Awaiting the low

The singlehanded Transat B to B skippers tell of what's been going on aboard their boats

Thursday December 8th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Three days into the Transat B to B race, the IMOCA 60 fleet is edging its way up a zone of high pressure to their East. As they round the top of the system they are gradually turning right, with those further north already into the stronger winds generated by an eastbound low emanating from Virginia on America's eastern seaboard. In every way, this is one of the race's major turning points. With the wind set to pick up considerably on Saturday, the race for supremacy is very much on.

The Transat B to B skippers spoke today in a radio chat session live with the Paris Boat Show. Leading the northern posse, Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac-Paprec 3 and François Gabart on MACIF were clearly happy with their position as they have been first to feel the beneficial effects of the depression. Dick hoisted his downwind sails at the first arrival of the new breeze and is reaping the rewards some 25 miles further north than Gabart.

Both are relishing the opportunity to learn valuable lessons which will serve them well in the Vendee Globe in 2012.

Jean-Pierre Dick said: “This is just where I wanted to go so we'll just have to see if it works now. Sometimes the situation is different to that forecast. It's an intriguing match that's for sure. To the North there is certainly more air circulating. On the first day of racing I was feeling pretty emotional about winning the title Sailor of the Year. I had no sleep the first night and the second I had a bit so I feel like I'm getting into the swing of things now. I'm managing to rack up little chunks of sleep but the fatigue is still there and wears you down. You're constantly easing the main or making a sail change or something – it never stops. When you do get some sleep you know you're going to sacrifice speed. On your own you have to make sure you're make sure you're making the right sail changes as you don't want to be changing it again soon after on your own. I've got quite a lot of experience on this boat now but I'm still making mistakes and you learn something new everyday.”

François Gabart said: “Things are absolutely perfect. I'm hanging a right now. Jean-Pierre is powering over the top of me just now as he must have hoisted his gennaker before me, but I preferred to be more prudent as the wind was pretty shifty. I feel like I'm well positioned as in principle there is more wind here. Sometimes it works well to cut the corner but I'm sitting tight here for now. I've only been sailing on my own for three days or so, but you do find yourself casting your mind to how it would be after two or three months in the Vendee Globe. I enjoy sailing with others but I think the Vendee would be very special because you are bound to learn more about yourself and look at things on a whole different level. I think about the Vendee Globe a lot, especially the closer it gets. Everything I'm learning here I know I'll use for the Vendee Globe. In fact I had an issue with my rudder downhaul last yesterday and I spent 15-20 minutes repairing it. Sailing solo you really have to learn to trust the automatic pilot and in 15 knots of breeze it's okay. In 40 knots or so though that would be really full-on. I'm happy with the start of my race in the Transat B to B and I'm still in the match – in fact I'm very well placed. It's certainly a challenge and the harder the challenge the more satisfied you are when you get to the finish.”

Also making good speed to the east, current leader Armel Le Cléac'h on Banque Populaire wasn't dismissing the benefits of his more southerly option and was keen to see how things panned out once he hangs a right.

"I had to put in a fair few manœuvres last night, so there were lots of sail changes to be made and we had to put in a gybe," said Le Cléac'h. "We're edging up the west face of a zone of high pressure and then we'll ease round the north of the system before heading east. At that point we'll be virtually on a direct course home. It's pretty physical work on your own and the process of say switching between a gennaker and a spinnaker takes a good half hour depending on the forecast. Things are starting to get a bit cooler now and I'm wearing my first fleece layer now. The wind is picking up and we'll soon have bigger seas so in two to three days' time it's going to be a case of taking care of the gear. Clearly there's more pressure in the West so we'll just have to wait and see how Virbac-Paprec and MACIF fair."

Of the British contingent, both Mike Golding on Gamesa and Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss are Vendee Globe veterans and both were on the pace, albeit back in fifth and sixth place on a central option after each suffered potentially major issues.

Mike Golding reported: "It was fairly easy going last night. We have steadily been going more and more downwind and now we are fully downwind. We were on genoa, full main, then we changed to code 3 and full main. I have stuck with the Code 3 as it was quite squally and I figured the shift would come quickly and now I have gybed more, away from the light area. As regards routing, I think you rely on it to give you an indicative course, but ultimately quite often the routing and the weather don't coincide, the routing is a useful tool, but it is just that, another tool. The weather data and weather routing, they are solid data that you couldn't possibly know with lots of experience. Where your experience comes in is when events happen outside the data. I have got both routes on the screen in front of me and in fact I am middle for diddle, I'm going exactly up between the two routes right now. The breeze is a little more left than I would have expected so possibly I might have to do a couple of gybes to get out of here. Right now, I'm pointing in fastest position which will get me out of the unstable conditions. We had one major problem with the oil leaking into the bilge. In fact it didn't so much leak, as siphoned itself into the engine, so I had to recover that and put it back in to the engine and the engine is fine now, I have given it a good run. So no major issues there, no issues on deck, no issues with sails and the boat is running nicely."

Thomson said: “At around 4am this morning I was sailing downwind with the A3 sail up – the biggest sail on-board for downwind conditions – I noticed that the sail wasn't all the way to the top of the mast, so tried to grind it back to the top and in the process the halyard snapped sending the sail crashing into the sea. We were still travelling at around 12 knots, so unfortunately the boat carried on straight over the sail where it got caught around the rudders and keel. I spent about 30 minutes trying to pull it free, but it was caught tight, I then tried backing the boat up under sail, but nothing helped. Having decided I would have to cut it free and going and getting a knife for the job, I had one last attempt at pulling it free and finally managed to get some of the sail on-board, as I was doing this the boat turned further downwind and I slowly managed to get the whole sail back on board and stowed down below. I haven't had a chance to inspect the sail yet, so I don't know what damage has been caused. Without the A3 halyard I'm now sailing under a fractional rig, with a smaller sail. I'm pleased I managed to save the sail, but am pretty knackered now as this took over an hour, so I'm planning on getting some sleep now before inspecting the sail and looking at repair options later on today.”

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