Jockeying for the positions
Considering how they downplayed their victory in the Cascais City Race series in Portugal last weekend, skipper Sidney Gavignet pointing out that they were more pleased by the level of sailing they had achieved and the progress made by the team, it is reasonable to assume that there will be little talk on board Musandam-Oman Sail yet of adding an offshore stage win to last weekend’s short courses victory.
It is looking better all the time for Gavignet’s international team lead the MOD70 European Tour fleet towards Marseille, where Leg 4 from Cascais should finish tomorrow, Monday, morning. Musandam-Oman Sail had a handy margin of 84.3 miles over second placed Race for Water with some 400 miles to go to the finish line on Sunday afternoon’s 1230 UTC report.
After a desperately complex and challenging night the three leading boats were spearheading the charge into the new, stronger breeze, making more than 20 knots. Indeed the leader was making 22 knots and Foncia, in third place, some 25 knots, on a direct angle towards Marseille.
And a testing finish is predicted as a frontal system brings up to 30 knots and some rain into the northern Med, conditions which might require teams to modulate their pace.
Musandam-Oman Sail’s navigator Jef Cuzon said as much in his lunchtime call to Race HQ in Marseille: “We have just gybed. Last night we got breeze just before Cabo de Gata and we passed with 12-14 knots of wind, slipping along and so we could make good gybes, taking advantage of the local effects. I think we did this well, working the thermal effects and the local weather. After Cabo de Gata we were in a band, which was between the land and the offshore breeze, and it was not bad slalom work. Then this morning after Cartagena we got into a land breeze, which allowed us to sprint along at 20 knots for a long time on the direct course. Now we are heading towards Nao before Valencia in the sun, doing 21 knots, downwind in 18 knots of wind VMG running. We have been fortunate to link up the winds and to extend on the others.
"Of course we are happy with where we are. And we should get to the new wind first and that will give us a good cushion. In the meantime we’ll gybe soon for the direct course towards Marseille. And we should have 15kts through the afternoon and more on starboard as we get near Marseille.
"70 miles ahead, for the guys behind it must be worst that anything in this weather. I think if you have to fight all these small changes in wind it must be tiring. We are not as hard pressed as them and so we have taken the opportunity to rest, to get some good sleep. And we are fit now. And with 25 knots or more it will be a new challenge, not too extreme, we won’t hold back but just try and maintain the lead we have. We will just manage our margin."
Given that the fleet was originally billed with an ETA of Sunday, it is not a surprise that the – given the slow progress in light winds since the start, the course has been shortened. Instead of turning west at the Porquerolles off Hyeres, the fleet will come direct to a mark of Cassis, to the east of Marseille rounding into the bay from the east.
In the duel for the overall MOD70 European Tour leadership, the Michel Desjoyeaux skippered Foncia – which was on top of the leaderboard when the fleet left Portugal – is in excellent shape to increase their points margin on Yann Guichard’s Spindrift Racing.
Foncia’s navigator Charles Caudrelier, dicing head-to-head with his former skipper Franck Cammas, both of the Volvo Ocean Race winning line-up, pledged today to do all they could to steal second off Race for Water on which Cammas is navigator for Stève Ravussin. Second would extend the points margin for Foncia, but bragging rights alone on a stage which has been the biggest test yet for navigators, would be sweet.
Caudrelier reported: “It is very, very complicated. We had a difficult night along the coast. In one hour we had Race for Water catch up ten miles on us. It’s very stressful. We may have the opposition behind us but we are always watching to see what happens. Now we are back in the wind but this wind is lighter. There are still options to come, so we push and push. There will be opportunities be the finish. But if there are big differences it will be complicated. Those behind us are looking like they’ll make a different route. We have our good route through the islands, but we are a little more North, but if I were behind I’d go completely to the east.
"There is strong wind to come and there could be damage, so it can be hard to get it right. It will be fast, but difficult.
"The mood is okay. Against Oman I don’t thing we can do anything and since early in this stage they have been ahead. They sailed well for two days, now it seems like they are fated to stay ahead. We are still head to head with Race 4 Water and we are really pushing for second. But that will be difficult to get because they are sailing well. But it is open. We wont do exactly what they do. There will be choices of tacks to make.”
But of course biggest bragging rights, leading into the only French stop of the MOD 70 European Tour, would only widen the smiles of Musandam-Oman Sail’s French trio Gavignet, Cuzon and Thomas Le Breton still more.
Winning into Marseille would have a special meaning for Gavignet who trained here some 25 years ago as a sports student and recalls seeing the big multis of the day arriving in the bay when he sailed his Laser: “It would be something a bit special because when I was 16, 17,18 I was there with the sports institute, the school of sailing, and the harbour, the marina, that we are staying in is the same one I was training at more than 25 years ago. So it is quite nice. If you look at my career, if you can call it that, to come back with such a nice Formula 1 yacht, with an Omani team. I am lucky. I can be happy”
Foncia was 14 miles shy of her rivals while Spindrift Racing and Groupe Edmond de Rothschild were just over a mile apart and racing in visual contact.
Fron on board Groupe Edmond de Rothschild helmsman and trimmer Thomas Rouxel reported: "We are alongside Spindrift; we found them this morning and we have come back on them a little. That’s good for morale and with the wind back too, then that is also good for spirits. We are downwind in 10-15kts, not very big seas and so we are making serious progress. Overall we are pretty disappointed with our position but we will fight until the end to not be last into Marseille.
"Last night: we had very little wind and what we had was very unstable, it passed from W to N, with a period with zero knots when it was between the two winds. We were in the coast looking for little shore breezes and that actually got us a little ahead of the routing. It was pretty constant, intense work, seemingly not able to hold a course for more than ten minutes.”
The leader is expected to cross the finish line around breakfast time tomorrow.