Giant snakes and ladders

Into the Med, but breeze remains ultra-patchy in the MOD70 European tour

Saturday September 22nd 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Image above courtesy of Expedition/PredictWind

Positions at 1330 UTC

Pos Boat Skipper Lat Long Spd Crs Dist VMG DTF DTL
          30min aver   24 hrs      
1 MUSANDAM-OMAN SAIL Sidney Gavignet 36 25.78' N 3 00.27' W 7.1 81 196.6 7.8 659.7 0
2 RACE FOR WATER Steve Ravussin 36 20.19' N 3 27.63' W 3.6 62 187 7.3 684 24.3
3 FONCIA Michel Desjoyeaux 36 20.85' N 3 35.91' W 4.6 58 192.1 7.5 689 29.2
4 GROUPE EDMOND DE ROTHSCHILD Sebastien Josse 36 11.56' N 4 30.54' W 6.2 65 145.2 5.7 734.9 75.2
5 SPINDRIFT RACING Yann Guichard 36 13.59' N 4 31.72' W 2.9 75 146.2 5.7 735.3 75.6

Having set sail from Kiel in the Baltic Sea three weeks ago, the five MOD70s last night passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean on the fourth and penultimate leg of their European Tour. In extremely difficult conditions Musandam-Oman Sail has done well to hang on her lead while behind her private match races are developing.

Thanks to the anticyclone covering the breadth of southern Europe there has been nothing straightforward about this leg from Cascais to Marseille. The snakes and ladders seen across the fleet has caused unprecedented separation, the distance between first to last having expanded from 28 miles at 1230 UTC yesterday to 75 miles 24 hours on.

Musandam-Oman Sail led the fleet into the Strait of Gibraltar early yesterday evening, passing Tarifa at 1730 UTC. Spindrift Racing was last to enter at around 2000 UTC, after they lost miles when the tackline for their genniker broke. “We were able to repair it and continue on,” recounted skipper Yann Guichard. “But we lost a good dozen miles thanks to that and that's why Foncia and Gitana got away from us.”

Passing through the Strait is always hazardous. This eight mile wide bottleneck is an extremely busy with shipping. For the MOD70s matters were made harder by the wind dying, the current and other factors, as Race for Water skipper Steve Ravussin described: “It was amazing: There was a lot of fog and a fine mist, it rained so there was moisture in the air. We could see the stars, but not the cargo ships - we just heard their foghorns.” On Foncia, Michel Desjoyeaux reported that they had had to take avoiding action to get out of the way of a ship that had erred away from its shipping lane.

East past Gibraltar and into the Med, the wind shut down. This caused a substantial compression with Musandam-Oman Sail’s 24 mile lead at 1330 UTC reduced to just 8.9 miles six hours later. Over one 30 minute period at this time Groupe Edmond de Rothschild averaged just 0.6 knots. But the wind Gods continued to smile on Sidney Gavignet’s team with a very light breeze filling in from the east and by mid-afternoon today the Omani team’s lead had increased to 24.3 miles.

The early hours also proved a decisive time for the boats astern with Race for Water and Foncia eventually able to make progress east in Musandam-Oman Sail’s wake, while Groupe Edmond de Rothschild tacked to cover Spindrift Racing which was taking a northerly course through the Strait, shaving Gibraltar itself. However this proved disastrous for both boats as once they were out into the Alboran Sea they found themselves drifting west at the mercy of the current. From being 30 miles off the lead at midnight, within six hours their deficit had doubled.

“The wind varies between 1 and 3 knots with huge shifts, so it is not easy for us to get out of this trap. There is only one solution: patience,” announced a resigned skipper Seb Josse from on board Groupe Edmond de Rothschild.

Ahead of them the fight for second place now sees Race for Water trying to fend off overall race leader Foncia, five miles to leeward at the mid-afternoon sched, while all the time trying to avoid any more wind holes. “We try to keep the boat on the rhum line as much as possible, but we don’t have much choice...” reported Race for Water skipper Stève Ravussin. “The land is far away and the thermal breeze is not easy to reach.”

Mid-afternoon Musandam-Oman Sail was some 36 miles southwest of Almeria, ghosting along at 6 knots in a light southeasterly. But despite holding the biggest lead so far seen in the MOD70 European Tour, she was not out of the woods with the the wind due to shut off again tonight off Cabo de Gata, east of Almeria. Luckily for the Omanis the forecast looks no better for the boats astern and there was an air of resignation today among those trailing that the opportunities to catch the leader were fast running out.

Thankfully this pain will not last too much longer. By tomorrow afternoon with the arrival of a substantial depression over northern France a building southwesterly gradient wind should fill in. This will help propel the MOD70s north where their ETA into Marseille remains around midday Monday.

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