Safran pulls into the lead
As expected with a transatlantic race that sets off from northern Europe at the beginning of winter, the Transat Jacques Vabre has seen a number of casualties over the weekend, particularly in the Multi 50 fleet where Maitre Jacques (ex-Crepes Whaou! 2) broke off the end of her bow (thought that problem had been solved with racing tris long ago...) and overnight saw the capsize of Arkema Aquitaine, the newest Multi 50 in the fleet, sailed by Lalou Roucayrol and Mayeul Riffet, 200 miles from Lisbon.
Even the impressive Vendee Globe winner MACIF hasn't come away unscathed, being forced to put into Peniche, Portugal yesterday at 1500 local time for a four hour pitstop to replace a damaged rudder blade, before resuming racing.
The latest to suffer damage has been the Sam Manuard-designed BET 1128 sailed by Italian Gaetano Mura and the boat's designer. The Italian Class40s broke the swivel hook on its Solent headsail causing the mast fell down, albeit without landing in the water. The duo managed to raise the mast again and carry on, but to make repairs, they are heading to La Coruna, which is about 150 miles downwind for them. They need to repair some electrical cables inside the mast which were damaged plus the hook for the Solent.
British skipper Brian Thompson, on Caterham Challenge with co-skipper Mike Gascoyne, reported this morning that they only narrowly missed colliding with BET 1128 which was only a few metres away from them when the incident happened. “We were just behind BET 1128 when their mast came down directly in front of us. Luckily I was on deck steering and could avoid a collision. Hope the boys on board are okay.”
Class 40 Marie-Galante, sailed by Dominique Rivard and Wilfrid Clerton, also diverted towards Lorient following boom damage yesterday.
As the Class40s tackle the Bay of Biscay, the MOD 70s are already at the latitude of the Canary Islands, roaring south across the trades. Edmond de Rothschild continues to put miles on Oman Air, which is now 74 miles astern of her, up from 46 24 hours ago.
Now at the latitude of Gibraltar, the lead Multi50s are still struggling to shake off the powerful IMOCA 60s. In the depleted fleet, the race for the lead is now left between two boats - Yves le Blevec and Kito de Pavant on Actual hold a 39 mile lead over Erwan Leroux and Yann Eliès on FenetreA Cardinal (ex-Crepes Whaou! 3), in turn 265 miles ahead of Rennes Metropole/Saint-Malo Agglomeration sailed by Gilles Lamiré and Andrea Mura. Different tactics are being played out between the two 2009 generation frontrunners with FenetreA Cardinal having got more westing in early and now 115 miles out to northwest of Actual.
Yves Le Blévec reported: "We are sailing in the high pressure area and so there are unstable wind and big shifts with sudden gusts under the clouds. We are careful because the boat can be difficult to manage in these conditions. Early in the night there was a little moon but it 's dark now: there is no reference to really monitor the boat. We try to play the wind shifts. There was between 20 and 25 knots of wind, but during the night 28-30 knots. We took a reef in the mainsail sailing with the gennaker.”
The heavyweight bout between the IMOCA 60s has seen Marc Guillemot and Pascal Bidégorry on Safran take the lead this morning following MACIF's pitstop yesterday evening. But it remains close between the front runners as they pass the latitude of Gibraltar, with Jérémie Beyou and Christopher Pratt on Maitre CoQ and PRB, sailed by Vincent Riou and Jean Le Cam, just 13 and 22 miles astern respectively.
Maitre CoQ was leading at the first sched this morning, but Safran was first to gybe at around 0230 UTC, followed by Maitre CoQ almost two hours later and the other three boats in this lead gaggle by 0800. Being first on to the favoured gybe has put Safran in front but these will not be the last gybes we see them boats make over the next 48 hours as they attempt to stay in the strongest of the northeasterly trades to the northwest of the Canary Islands.
Earlier this morning Pascal Bidégorry reported from Safran: "Unlike other boat,s we gybed two and a half hours ago because the wind went little right and it was going a bit soft: it seemed reasonable to us. The wind will be fairly stable throughout the day and tomorrow. I would not be surprised to see our friends [gybe] in the next few hours ... And the shift to the east is important as we have to set up for the long gybe towards the equator. At present we have 22 knots under spinnaker but we must be careful - we are thinking about a reef. We decided to make shorter watches on the helm because the conditions are unstable."
At the latest sched Sébastien Rogues and Fabien Delahaye's GDF Suez is now two thirds of the way across the Bay of Biscay with the wind from the WSW and getting lighter for the leaders. Nonetheless overnight the butterscotch-coloured Mach 40 has managed to increase her lead from 12 miles to 19 with Jörg Riechers and Pierre Brasseur on another Mach 40, mare, having overhauled Alex Pella and Pablo Santurde on Tales Santander 2014 to take second. The Spanish duo may have some issues as while the fleet is staying high to clear Cape Finisterre, they have dropped to leeward and in turn plummeted down the leaderboard from third to seventh over the course of this morning.
14 miles behind mare, fighting for third place, is a gaggle of boats still within close contact and lead at preent by Paralympic medallist Damien Seguin and Figaro sailor Yoann Richomme on the former's ERDF - Des Pieds et des Mains.
Among British interests in the Class 40, Mike Gascoyne and Brian Thompson on Caterham Challenge had moved up from ninth to eighth place overnight, and at the latest sched is up to eighth, 50 miles off the lead, but 10 miles from third place. Ned Collier Wakefield and Sam Goodchild on the new Forty(1)Design, Concise 8, are also on a charge, up from 13th to 11th place overight, 12 miles behind Gascoyne and Thompson. Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France have dropped two places to 14th overnight, as they, along with the rest of the fleet, straight line towards Cape Finisterre.
The weather for the Class 40s over the next two days is divided between the position of the Azores high, now annoyingly close to the Portugese coast, but fortunately moving offshore again tomorrow allowing stronger northerlies to fill in behind it. But better news is not far away. A front is coming in tomorrow and behind this the Azores high is due to fill in, the anticyclone centre having shot north up to the latitude of the English Channel and with it providing strong northeasterlies to propel the Class40s south at pace.