Gale in the Bay of Biscay
A day and a half into the Transat Jacques Vabre, the Class40 fleet remains safely berthed in Roscoff on the north coast of Brittany, where Sébastien Rogues and Fabien Delahaye on race favourite GDF Suez was first home yesterday afternoon. The intention is to restart the Class40 fleet in the sequence they arrived with GDF Suez leaving at 0300 tomorrow (Sunday) morning.
Meanwhile the MOD70 leaders are already across the Bay of Biscay and have ducked into the bay off La Coruna where they are short tacking along the coast in the lee of Cape Finisterre. Impressively Edmond de Rothschild remains just over a mile ahead of Oman Air, the exact same margin as she held in this three-hulled match race yesterday.
Overnight the MOD70 crews were pushed to their limits in over 35 knots and 4-5 metre seas, elected to hug the coastline to shelter from the worst of the weather.
Sidney Gavignet reported from Oman Air: “It is tough out here. I think the conditions last night were the toughest I have ever experienced with this boat. But we are almost free of this phase; we need to do two more tacks to get round Cape Finisterre.
“The night was really hard; there was a huge seaway so we tried to protect ourselves by hugging the coastline, finally reducing sail to the third reef and the third jib (the small headsail). The boat was literally taking off and we were not going very fast.
“It is very hard to get any sleep; being so close to the coast, the one that is not helming is navigating. We have hardly slept at all. We are tired, but as soon as we get past the Cape, things will improve quite quickly. We will be doing a straight line south and we will be able to get some rest.
“Our immediate goal is to win back the eight nautical miles that we lost to Edmond de Rothschild overnight. At the moment, we can’t see them; they must be about 10nms ahead of us.
“Conditions are improving; at the moment we have 27 knots – an improvement on the 36 knots and very big waves that we had when I was last up on deck earlier this morning.
"At the moment, the boat is in good shape, the manpower less so, but we’ll be able to recover shortly!”
Soon the MOD70s will be out of the lee of the land and will face the full brunt of the southwesterly breeze. Fortunately with the Azores high currently centred just to the east of the Azores, the big one design tris will be into a 'classic' transat situation with the wind gradually veering into the north by the time they are down at the latitude of Lisbon providing them with a painless transition into the favourable northeasterly trades.
Behind, the Multi 50s and lead IMOCA 60s are currently mid-way across the Bay of Biscay and tackling the worst weather in the fleet - upwind, with the WSWerly blowing at 30 knots, gusting to 40 and a lumpy sea. Today is going to be unpleasant for them as they weather the near gale force winds, with an unusual frontal system due to pass eastbound over the Bay of Biscay over the course of the day.
The Multi50s are not enjoying the big upwind conditions, making appalling tacking angles and generally surviving the conditions backing off to 5-6 knots. They are waiting for a more favourable shift into the WNW that is due after the fronts have passed over the fleet today.
While the Multi50s struggle it is interesting to note that Yves le Blevec and Kito de Pavant on the class leader Actual is just in the process of crossing directly ahead of the lead IMOCA 60 - race favourites Francois Gabart and Michel Desjoyeaux on MACIF. If the vis was better, the two would see each other.
MACIF regained the yesterday afternoon benefitting from taking a more offshore route into Ushant and taking the offshore route around the island off northwest France (Safran and Bureau Vallee went inshore). At the last sched yesterday MACIF was already 12 miles ahead of second placed Vincent Riou and Jean le Cam on PRB.
Overnight the boats have mostly been on starboard tack with the IMOCA leaders putting in a short hitch to the west in the early hours of this morning. MACIF was the first to tack back to the south, back on course and has extended further as a result, her lead up to 32 miles at the latest sched - a pretty amazing lead so early in the race. However the boats that spent longer on port are now making better boat speed suggesting that they are already be seeing the wind slightly freed up for them.
This morning Guillaume Le Brec reported from the IMOCA 60 Bureau Vallée: "It’s not going too badly. We had a good day and then a night which is a bit more complicated with unstable conditions and a lot of wind in the gusts. But we are sailing towards Cape Finisterre. We tacked recently when we got the front and now are on starboard making towards the Cape. We had 25 knots from the west, the seas were okay and we took the option to tack earlier than the routing said otherwise we would have tacked twice in 35kts or more and so we are happy to have got west. We made the two tacks in 25 knots so that was easier, now we want to drive south for the sun which we have really yet to see."
Tanguy de Lamotte on the IMOCA 60 Initiatives Coeur added: "We're in 30 knots, on port tack under three reefs and storm jib and it is night. For now it is manageable, but we will see more and we won't soon be ahead to turn back to the south towards Cape Finisterre. Conditions are consistent with what was expected, although there is no wind at 45 knots as there can be in a front. We had a small problem with a piece of flotsam and it's hard to eat, but morale is good, because we were able to sleep - François (Damiens) is sleeping now."