Photo: Virbac-Paprec

Virbac Paprec takes the lead

IMOCA 60 fleet in for a pasting as they round the coast of Spain

Sunday May 20th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

A first night during which it proved easy to fall into wind holes under storm clouds, followed by spells of light and variable winds, has quickly given way to tough, tight reaching conditions for the Europa Warm’Up IMOCA 60 fleet.

Some managed to escape the worst of the sticky stuff with seemingly unerring efficiency. Others found themselves virtually rooted to the spot for longer than they would have liked.

It is little wonder that there was already just over 50 miles between first placed Jean-Pierre Dick and his team on Virbac-Paprec 3 and seventh placed Groupe Bel of Kito de Pavant as the leaders approached the latitude of Capo Palos – the corner of Murcia – after 24 hours and 250 miles of racing.

In particular De Pavant was bitterly disappointed to have paid such a heavy price for the complex first night, especially as the fleet then ran progressively into an increasing breeze which has topped 30 knots at times, making for a wet, bouncy first day at sea.

The Groupe Bel crew had chosen an inshore route and found themselves with generally less wind than those who stayed out, but de Pavant reported today that one particularly tenacious cloud accounted for much of their deficit so far. In contrast Virbac-Paprec 3 has led through the day with a margin of between 12 and 15 miles over Vincent Riou's second placed PRB with Francois Gabart and his crew on MACIF third, nearly 28 miles behind the leader. The order established over the first night has remained the same with only small changes in advantage and deficit.

Life on board has not been easy in the boisterous conditions today. The space which is usually the domain of the solo skipper – occasionally two – is now shared between five. But the positives vastly outweigh any cramped feelings, for the IMOCA 60s are being driven to their maximum, setting a useful benchmark for their skippers to aspire to when they undertake the second leg singlehanded. But, equally, in the choppy conditions, a measure of boat preservation is required.

These tough upwind conditions should remain until Gibraltar where often there are major transitions to be negotiated, along with the strong current. After three days of westerly winds over the west flowing current, it is likely to be choppy and unpleasant, but the latest predictions still have only light winds which might make fighting a 3-4 knot contrary flow something of a challenge. If the race leaders do get stuck in this scenario then there is every chance for the chasing pack to catch them back up.

From MACIF François Gabart reported: "Last night we went through all the manoeuvres we could always in winds of less than 10 knots. Eventually the wind filled in and at one stage we have seen 32 knots. There is quite a bit of a sea with small waves which are not easy to deal with. The boat slams a bit. The transition was quite pronounced. At one minute we were under spinnaker in 3kts and then on the horizon you saw something coming and five minutes later we were upwind in 30 knots. But I must admit that in these conditions it very nice to have four crew.”

Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac-Paprec 3 said: "Being in the lead is pleasing, despite the fatigue, because we did not sleep much last night. We're happy, we put it together well in the light winds. These conditions very complicated and the gaps opened. Now, we're going to be very even in strong winds, where the speeds of the boats are close to one another. So yes, we got a nice jump. With Bilou aboard, the atmosphere is really laid back, not to mention he is also so talented.”

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