Gibraltar Strait parking lot
The Strait of Gibraltar will go down as the make or break of this first leg of the Europa Warm-Up. Having taking a long tack towards the Spanish coast off Malaga, race leader Virbac Paprec 3 tacked back late yesterday evening and at 0500 UTC had laid the Moroccan side of the Strait just as the wind went soft. She was followed into the Strait on the southern side by MACIF and Banque Populaire, while PRB headed across to the Gibraltar side. This latter move proved to be the winner and so mid-morning Vincent Riou's team managed to pull into the lead of the race as the boats slowly edged their way through the Strait and out into the Atlantic.
“We are keeping cool heads about it, it’s not over” warned Riou, after his orange hulled IMOCA 60 sneaked past the lead duo. “Nothing is won, nothing is lost."
Early afternoon Cheminees Poujoulat and Groupe Bel reached the eastern entrance to the Strait and had an even more torrid time attempting to get through, making bearly any headway all afternoon. This has allowed tailender, Javier Sanso's Acciona to catch up and at the final sched today at 1900 UTC, all three were still stuck - making between 0.1 and 2.4 knots - waiting for the tide to turn or the wind to fill in... Meanwhile the leaders are getting back up to speed making 10 knots in a 15 knot northerly breeze that is forecast to drop and veer slightly over the course of tonight.
Commenting from Groupe Bel, Kito de Pavant said: "We're focused, we know that under these conditions, we just have to stay vigilant, especially as the conditions should be better now for those in front. We would not like getting caught by the Strait of Gibraltar so we try to go our best. With no wind, it is obvious that it's more comfortable: the boat is flat, it is dry. We sleep better, for sure, but we sleep a lot less time, because you need to constantly adjust, monitor changes in the wind and make maneuvers."
Bernard Stamm on neighbouring Cheminées Poujoulat reported: "It was a good start, but it we did not deal with the first night well. We'll have to try to come back, but now it is rather better for those in front. We'll try not to get trapped by the calms; last night our tacks were based on changes of the wind. Here, we are close with Groupe Bel, which are downwind of us and they go a little better than us. Currently, we are still far from the strait and we already have three knots of current against us ... "
Javier Sanso on Acciona 100% EcoPowered said: "I'm glad we can test our Acciona EcoPowered under these conditions. As with any new boat, we had some technical problems, but everything is fixed for the moment. We lost a few hours with a problem with the Solent furler. But luckily Pachi is an ace and found the right fix. Yesterday the staysail came off when we were taking the third reef in 50 knots of wind. We make every effort to get back into the fleet, but it is not easy. We'll see if we can get back into the game, there is still a lot of miles to race. "