Fleet divides

Seat belts on as the IMOCA 60s look forward to a week of big conditions in the Transat B to B

Saturday December 10th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Chart above courtesy of Expedition/Tasman Bay Navigation Systems and PredictWind

Positions at 0630

Pos Skipper Boat Lat Long Spd Crs Dist Spd VMG Crs Dist DTF DTL
          1 hour - Between scheds - - - 24 hrs    
1 François GABART MACIF 36 29.71' N 56 35.73' W 14.3 63 88.7 9.9 9.7 65 247.1 2410.4 0
2 Armel LECLEACH Banque Populaire 35 58.75' N 57 04.19' W 13.4 50 82.6 9.2 9.2 59 216.2 2446.6 36.2
3 Jean-Pierre DICK Virbac-Paprec 3 38 15.52' N 60 09.47' W 11.1 24 98.9 11 8.9 21 177.7 2496.3 85.9
4 Vincent RIOU PRB 37 56.44' N 60 33.94' W 10.8 24 83.3 11.1 8.7 18 177.3 2509.3 99
5 Mike GOLDING GAMESA 37 05.42' N 59 53.52' W 13.2 42 79.5 8.8 7.5 24 175.7 2523.4 113
6 Marc GUILLEMOT Safran 35 21.05' N 58 48.02' W 13 46 65.1 7.2 7.2 61 172.1 2537.6 127.2
7 Alex THOMSON Hugo Boss 37 52.98' N 61 32.83' W 11.2 30 89.3 9.9 7.4 15 146.5 2563.8 153.4
8 Louis BURTON BUREAU VALLEE 33 38.07' N 61 12.19' W 13.3 21 70.8 7.9 6.8 23 124.8 2694.1 283.7

By diving east, the two new VPLP-Verdier designs, Francois Gabart's MACIF and Armel le Cleac'h's Banque Populaire have done a fine job extending away from the rest of the fleet in the IMOCA 60's Transat B to B over the last 24 hours - in particular, Gabart is to be congratulated in leading in what is his first ever singlehanded IMOCA 60 race. While the chart above indicates that the two leaders are dropping out of the favourable band of southwesterlies they have been sailing down over the last day and a half, they are still making the best speeds in the fleet as the wind frees up for the boats that have taken a more northerly course.

So why are the other group sailing north? This is because they are playing a longer game - the high to their north (H1) is forecast to move east, to the north of H2 over the course of today and the two areas of high pressure are set to merge tonight and into tomorrow. But the met feature the skippers will be watching is a depression currently developing off to the west of our chart above. This is spinning up over today and by midnight tonight will be just south of Newfoundland. This shoots in an ENEerly direction across the North Atlantic and is set to give the UK another pasting for most of next week from Monday afternoon on...By Monday night when its centre is off the west coast of Scotland, the centre of this depression will be 950mB (ie very low...)

The upshot of this is that by tomorrow morning, the northerly group will be first to pick up the strongest southwesterlies from the depression. As the wind continues to veer from the east into the southwest, so the northerly group will gybe east. This will allow them a fast day of sailing tomorrow. However we are still liking where MACIF and Banque Populaire are for although they will be later picking up the new southwesterly breeze, they are already further east. 

At present the routing for both groups has them making fast speeds over the rest of the course back to Europe and the finish off Lorient in 30-40+ knots, initially from the southwest, but veering northwest on Monday. Given the forecast we might even see a new solo IMOCA 60 speed record set at some point next week.

Yesterday the skippers commented: 

Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire): “There's a bit less wind, so we're not making headway quickly. The weather situation is pretty difficult with a deep depression above us. We'll have to wait and see if Francois and I end up duelling. It's going to be difficult, a real baptism of fire, but it's good training for the Vendee Globe. That's what we came for. We have to get a handle on things. We'll have to be careful with the boat and the sailor and ensure our trajectory avoids any dangers. The main difficulty will come in 3 to 4 days' time when we get slammed by 35 to 40 knots of downwind conditions, which are set to remain with us all the way home. It's a deep depression so there will be air all the way to Lorient and big seas. We have to prepare the boat accordingly. We should easily be home for Christmas but we'll have to remain vigilant nonetheless. Right now though, there's not much wind and we're right on the edge of the front.”

Vincent Riou (PRB): “We're fine. Conditions are very cool, too cool even. There's not much noise and not much wind. Effectively there's Virbac-Paprec and I in the northern group to the North of the front, and another group to the South. I hadn't anticipated it being quite so hard to get through into more air but we're nearly there now. In 24 to 36 hours the wind will punch in so we're gradually preparing the boat and clearing the decks of sails so they're stowed securely down below. And so the Atlantic chess game begins and we begin to the move our pawns into position. I really can't complain about the boat. I'm very happy with how she's behaving and very satisfied with her performance. Strategy is likely to play an important role in the coming days. It's been a struggle to get up here over the past four days. Essentially being fairly North means you get strong winds and you can then line up for a sprint. To do that though you have to have a boat that is intact!”

Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3): “It's grey and there's no wind. The northerly option was a good one but the wind simply doesn't equate to what there is on the grib files, it's just not here. Having said that, the front could easily shift 50 miles and then I'd have wind and the others wouldn't so it could all change. I'm not too anxious as there are no great stakes in this race. However, it does look like it's going to be a windy crossing so that's good. For now it's just down to tenacity and patience. I reckon that in 48 hours' time we'll get clobbered by the big winds and we're going to need considerably more layers soon. The boat will be good though as she's reliable, sturdy, has never suffered any structural issues, sails great close to the wind, full and by in big seas and slices through the water. There's not much to separate us from our rivals though that said. This morning you could feel the first sniffs of cold air from a system further North…”

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