Photos: Ricardo Pinto / MOD SA

Spindrift Racing leads out of Cascais

But tricky conditions are forecast as the MOD European Tour heads for the Med

Thursday September 20th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: Portugal

Light winds caused a short delay to the start of the MOD70 European Tour’s fourth leg, but eventually at 1400 local time (1300 UTC) the five one design trimarans to set sail from Cascais, Portugal.

In a light six knot breeze from the southwest, Yann Guichard and Spindrift racing made the best start to windward of the fleet. Before departing on the leg proper, the trimarans sailed a five mile inshore course in the mouth of the Tagus estuary. Spindrift racing went on to win this, in turn gaining them three bonus points, vitally helping to reduce their six point deficit on Foncia going into this penultimate leg of the MOD70 European Tour. The Michel Desjoyeaux-skippered MOD70 was third to complete the inshore course behind Stève Ravussin and Race For Water. “The bonus points are very important,” said Guichard. “Those three points are almost the difference you get between first and second on the offshore leg.”

Second for Race For Water continues the upward trend in their performance, as Volvo Ocean Race winner Franck Cammas, the navigator on board, explained: “We did improve a bit on the last leg on the Round Portugal race, so we maybe will be a little more ambitious on this next leg. You can expect anything in the Mediterranean and we just have to remain alert and clever to sail well in the light winds.”

Leaving the Tagus estuary the five MOD70s were heading south under mainsail and gennaker in six knots of breeze, bound for the first turning mark of the course at Cape St Vincent, the southwesternmost corner of Portugal.

With at least 1071 miles to sail to Marseille, the routing for leg four, through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean and on to the south of France, is suggesting it will take even the rapid MOD70 trimarans four days to complete.

“There are two legs to go and this one to Marseille is really important with and some difficult transition areas like Gibraltar and the Alboran Sea," said Spindrift Racing skipper, Yann Guichard before leaving. "This is further complicated by the forecast that is not easy to decipher."


At present there is a weak depression located over northwest Spain, while some 1000 miles to the west, out in the middle of the Atlantic, ex-cyclone Nadine has been reaping havoc around the Azores, although this is due to track south over the next few days. Between Nadine and the Portugese coast lies a giant ridge and with this easing east later today, the wind is forecast to veer dramatically into the north or NNW overnight. Forecasters suggest that on the opening section of the leg down to Cape St. Vincent, and probably beyond, there will be localised calms to be avoided.

Into tomorrow morning the northerlies look set to settle, backing into the northwest as the MOD70s cross the Bay of Cadiz en route for the Strait of Gibraltar. The Strait itself is always a dilemma, a choice of sticking to the Moroccan or Spanish shores.

Yann Guichard described his tactics: “We are going to go up the northern channel past Cadiz, which is narrow compared to the south, where I guess to see the rest of the fleet go. We should have some strong easterly wind up the channel, so it will be a strategic passage. We could see some re-grouping in the Alboran Sea area. Again, some may prefer to hug the African side and you could also see the lateral gaps build and create big differences at the finish.”

Fortunately the latest meteo has the strong easterly headwinds previously having abated with little pressure now when the boats arrive in the Alboran Sea between south Spain and Morocco, but building the further they head east – a classic case of the rich getting richer.

Sidney Gavignet, skipper on Musandam-Oman Sail provided his assessment: “The forecast is for very light winds on the fourth leg start from Cascais to St Vincent, then we could see conditions change with different options with some downwind sailing along the southern coast of Spain or some further upwind further offshore… but it is not very clear. It could be light after Gibraltar and then you could see some split in the fleet here - either going out towards the North African coast or hugging the Spanish one. There is an area of low pressure in the Golfe du Lion and then there is thermal low on the Alboran Sea. I think the game is going to be very open with different choices of course made by all."

While the forecast is showing the conditions to be decidedly fickle and changing, the outcome of leg 4 could also prove decisive overall in the MOD70 European Tour.

With four points now separating leaders FONCIA from Spindrift racing after today’s inshore course, the pressure is on Yann Guichard’s team to reduce further that deficit as much as possible.

In Marseille there are two days of intense City Race and just the final offshore, Leg 5, to Genoa left as scoring opportunities. So, although the event has only just passed its midpoint, time is running out and the final finish is on the horizon.

Prior to the start, Yann Guichard explained his situation on Spindrift Racing: "We are now lying in second place, 6 points behind Foncia, not a huge gap, but one we need to reduce on this leg, because it will be tougher later with only one leg to go. The bonus points are very important - those three points are almost the difference you get between first and second on an offshore leg where there are four points difference. You really have to do well on the inshore part to then win the leg."

This will be a very tactical leg, with many opportunities to break away from the fleet and do something different. Whether teams are now prepared to push the risk and reward equation more and try to break away, or whether they will do the opposite and stick closely to their nearest opposition will be very apparent on this leg.

In these sometimes random conditions it will hard for teams to control their opponents. The transitions will be difficult and the leaders’ life always the most stressful.

In the bigger picture when once there was a hierarchy of three boats at the top of the fleet, now it is much more open. Musandam-Oman Sail and Race for Water have proven they are now well capable of winning offshore and inshore. Stève Ravussin’s team took second on the short offshore, leg 3, only 5 minutes and 50 seconds behind Foncia, and of course Musandam-Oman Sail won the Cascais City Race series. So the level has risen visibly, and now that high level is evenly matched through the fleet.

Cascais Scoring gate:
1 - Spindrift racing (Yann Guichard) = 3 points
2 - Race for Water (Steve Ravussin) = 2 points
3 - FONCIA (Michel Desjoyeaux) = 1 point
4 - Groupe Edmond de Rothschild (Sébastien Josse)
5 - Musandam, Oman Sail (Sidney Gavignet)

MOD70 European Tour Standings:
(After 3 offshore legs, 3 City Races and Leg 4 bonus)
1- FONCIA (Michel Desjoyeaux) 183 points
2- Spindrift racing (Yann Guichard) 179 points
3- Groupe Edmond de Rothschild (Sébastien Josse) 152 points
4- Race for Water (Stève Ravussin) 147 points
5- Musandam-Oman Sail (Sidney Gavignet) 143 points

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