Dolphin off Virbac-Paprec 3 (Photo by Virbac-Paprec / Barcelona World Race )

Dolphin off Virbac-Paprec 3 (Photo by Virbac-Paprec / Barcelona World Race )

The Finish. As the time ticks down closer to the first finish of this Barcelona World Race, the closing proximity to the final line, be it a few days or two weeks away, means that the release after 89 days of racing is weighing heavily on the minds of many of the skippers now nearing the home strait, be that in actual fact, or more metaphorically.

Two of the skippers who were joined by Visio-Conference today were showing the effects of their three months of endeavour, tired and drawn, and admitted to wanting as much to get their respective first IMOCA Open 60 circumnavigations safely completed as to deliver their results.

For Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron, ETA Gibraltar around midnight Thursday,  theirs has been a day of precision manouvers off the Moroccan coast, getting to within 800 meters of the beach at one point early this morning. But it still seems like it will be at least offshore of Murcia before they may have some relief from their interminable upwind passage since the Equator. The final miles from there look light and unpredictable.

For Iker Martinez on MAPFRE it was a chance to explain their slightly problematic passage through between La Gomera and La Palma. The Spanish Olympic champion confirmed that part of the reason for their routing was to take brief advantage of La Palma’s lee to effect what should have been a 20 minutes repair, but the combination of unexpected 30 and then 40 knots gusts and some unpleasant seas meant this short repair interlude turned into three hours of hard labour which cost them an extra 45 miles on leaders Jean-Pierre Dick andLoïck Peyron.

Martinez explained how that their 10 years plus of Olympic strength and conditioning training for the 49er has been a key factor in being able to drive their MAPFRE as hard and consistently as they have. And now, low on food rations, it is clear the double Olympic medallists are using some of that nutritional experience to manage their limited body refuelling, maximising sleep to just keep going to the finish line. He said, in fact, given their pre-race experience, second for them would be seen as much as a victory.

Martinez explained: “ We are pretty tired with the food situation, physically this is an ultramarathon. Some days we have it when we are really tired, but it is not one of our biggest worries. I think we are all now thinking about the finish, not too long ago we weren’t but now we are.

We try to sleep as much as we can to keep energy so that we don’t make mistakes, and if they do like yesterday then we have the energy to deal with them and keep going.

It is more than 10 years that we have been physically training. Training for the Olympics in China was pretty extreme, so I think that physically we were in good shape for this race, but I think we pushed very hard.

We are here in this second place because of our physical preparation and ability to push, not because of our experience. Fourteen months ago we did not even have an IMOCA Open 60 and had never even sailed on of these before.?

Behind them the situation is opening up as the Azores High pressure blockade of the Straits of Gibraltar opens progressively throwing open new options to Renault ZE Sailing Team and Estrella Damm to sprint north and try to breach the high pressure ridge, perhaps for some brief SW’ly breezes but to enjoy the prospect of a more dependable N’ly and NE’ly breezes which would allow them a more direct layline to Gibraltar.

The predicted temporary compression between third placed Renault ZE, slowed slightly now, and Estrella Damm, is becoming evident – Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes gaining 12 miles this afternoon – but the direct northerly option does not seem to be offered as freely to Neutrogena.  Ryan Breymaier said:

“They (Estrella Damm and Renault Z.E) are both going quite fast at the moment, but I am not sure how well that is going to work for them because that ridge goes back north and I think that it is going to be quite tricky for them. We have been waiting, hoping for some sort of tactical opportunity just to finish quicker, not even so much thinking we can get by them, just to finish with some food less. So theirs seemed like an option but the ridge seems to move back and forth a lot and so that makes it a much more difficult to take that option.?

Under the leadership of their chief technician Stan, Jaume Mumbru and Cali Sanmarti have been making excellent progress with their boom repair in Ushuaia for their We Are Water. The boom has been successfully sleeved with initial internal lamination, but final lamination has to be completed. They can leave after 1555hrs UTC Thursday 31st but it is unclear as yet if the duo will be completely ready for that time, but it is believed they will be close.

 

Standings of Wednesday 30th March  at 1400hrs UTC

1              VIRBAC-PAPREC 3 796 miles to finish

2              MAPFRE + 311 miles to leader

3              RENAULT Z.E at + 1142miles to leader

4              ESTRELLA DAMM Sailing Team at + 1289 miles to leader

5              NEUTROGENA at + 1313 miles to leader

6              GAES CENTROS AUDITIVOS at + 1905 miles to leader

7              HUGO BOSS at + 3327 miles to leader

8              FORUM MARITIM CATALA at + 3802 miles to leader

9              WE ARE WATER at + 6060 miles to leader

10            CENTRAL LECHERA ASTURIANA at + 10753 miles to leader

 

RTD        FONCIA

RTD        PRESIDENT

RTD        GROUPE BEL

RTD        MIRABAUD

 

Alex Pella (ESP) Estrella Damm:“We are still sailing upwind but a little bit more eased, cracked a bit making north. The wind is very stable. In the next 24 to 48 hours there will be a change. First we have a transition zone with some lighter winds, then some SW’ly veering to the N. Let us see how Renault Z.E goes but for now they are better positioned than us. For sure the further north you are at the moment, the better. That is what we decided is best for getting to Gibraltar. We think that Renault Z.E has made the best choice and ourselves too. There was not much to hide, we talked about using ghost mode but in the end it was not left or right, there was only one way to go and we have to go there as fast as possible and let the others do what they can.

We’ll see what happens between now and the Strait and then in the Mediterranean. There should be the accordion effect in the Strait but really it is impossible to know because we are still about eight days from that. Until then it will be difficult to catch up. But otherwise everything is going well, the boat is all good, it is getting colder again, we have thicker clothes on again and we have food to spare, and Pepe seems to have enough painkillers for his knee until the finish.?

Iker Martinez (ESP) MAPFRE:“Yesterday was a bit of a complicated day.  We took the decision to go between La Palma and La Gomera which seemed like a good option. We thought we could use a bit of the lee to make a fix a problem with sail and the solent stay, but it got a bit out of hand, there were a lot of waves and we had gusts of 30 knots, we ended up having to run downwind to change to the smaller headsail, then we had 40 knots and it all got a bit messy. We managed to get it all in order, but we probably lost about three hours of sailing. It was a day with a lot going on, but in the end we did not break anything else. The stay we fixed works not bad, we were a bit unlucky and we broke a bit of the furler, so we swapped about a bit, changed the cables and it is OK, it works. We can use the Solent which is important.

We are pretty tired with the food situation, physically this is an ultramarathon. Some days we have it when we are really tired, but it is not one of our biggest worries. I think we are all now thinking about the finish, not too long ago we weren’t but now we are.

We try to sleep as much as we can to keep energy so that we don’t make mistakes, and if they do like yesterday then we have the energy to deal with them and keep going.

It is more than 10 years that we have been physically training. Training for the Olympics in China was pretty extreme, so I think that physically we were in good shape for this race, but I think we pushed very hard.

We are here in this second place because of our physical preparation and ability to push, not because of our experience. Fourteen months ago we did not even have an IMOCA Open 60 and had never even sailed on of these before.?

Ryan Breymaier (USA) Neutrogena:  “They (Estrella Damm and Renault Z.E) are both going quite fast at the moment, but I am not sure how well that is going to work for them because that ridge goes back north and I think that it is going to be quite tricky for them. We have been waiting, hoping for some sort of tactical opportunity just to finish quicker, not even so much thinking we can get by them, just to finish with some food less. So theirs seemed like an option but the ridge seems to move back and forth a lot and so that makes it a much more difficult to take that option.?

 

Virbac Paprec 3 Announces They Are In Ghost Mode (Photo by Virbac-Paprec 3 / Barcelona World Race)

Virbac Paprec 3 Announces They Are In Ghost Mode (Photo by Virbac-Paprec 3 / Barcelona World Race)

 Virbac-Paprec 3 in ‘ghost’ mode

 We Are Water prepare for the worst case scenario

 Renault Z.E. third into northern hemisphere
‘Let’s play!’ commented Loick Peyron and Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA) from Virbac-Paprec 3 this morning as they entered ‘stealth’ mode at 1000hrs (UTC). Their position or rankings will not be visible for 36 hours, ensuring that their movements will remain hidden from view by the fleet and nearest rivals MAPFRE.

Tactically the forthcoming upwind section of Atlantic raises an interesting dilemma for the front-runners, and particularly for MAPFRE, 244 miles behind in this morning’s 0500hrs position report. The Azores High is expanding east-west across the north Atlantic, creating a large obstacle on the way to the Mediterranean. Whilst taking a westerly route looks like an unworkable tactic given the considerable extra mileage involved, the issue of when to tack east to avoid the centre of the anticyclone remains uncertain.

The GRIB files show stronger winds near the coast so by tacking early towards North Africa they will reach better pressure soonest, but will be sailing an unfavorable angle for longer. Carry on heading north as long as they dare and they will benefit from lifting pressure, but are at risk of getting trapped by the light winds at the centre of the high, while taking a ‘middle road’ between the two means avoiding the light winds in the lee of the Canary Islands. When to tack in, and when to tack back out? Timing will be everything, and by selecting stealth mode Virbac-Paprec 3 are hiding the clues for MAPFRE.

Estrella Damm (Photo by Estrellan Damm / Barcelona World Race)

Estrella Damm (Photo by Estrellan Damm / Barcelona World Race)

Battening the hatches

The situation is more serious on We Are Water. “The barometer has gone down to 956mb, we are preparing for the worst possible scenario,? emailed Jaume Mumbru (ESP) this morning, as he and Cali Sanmarti prepared to ride out what Barcelona World Race meteorologist Marcel van Triest predicted could be the worst Southern Ocean storm of the race due to a deep low pressure system.

The weather forecast for the area they are sailing in for the next 18 hours is severe: a south-westerly gale of 45-60 knots, gusting 75: a Force 12. In conjunction with the strong winds, huge seas are also predicted with a 9-12 metre swell. Heavy rain, squalls, and even snow are all likely as the winds are blowing directly from Antarctica, bringing bitingly cold dense air which makes the conditions all the more intense.

Jaume Mumbru reported from the boat around 1500hrs this afternoon that they were running away from the gale under storm jib only with zero mainsail, in around 55 knot (63mph or 101 km/h) winds. The pair were safely inside the boat, which was making around 11 knots in a north-easterly direction, and reported that although conditions were intensely cold, the wave pattern was better than anticipated with no confused cross-seas.

Battle for bronze

Just 118 miles divide the third to fifth-placed boats this afternoon as Renault Z.E., Estrella Damm and Neutrogena sweat it out in the Doldrums, where temperatures are soaring to over 30 degrees inside, making sleep during daytime almost impossible for some.

Renault Z.E. became the third boat to re-enter the northern hemisphere at 1445 (UTC) this afternoon, in what so far appears to be a relatively benign Doldrums crossing. Just 76 miles behind, Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes (ESP) remain solid in fourth, ahead of Ryan Breymaier (USA) and Boris Herrmann (GER) on Neutrogena. Ryan Breymaier explained today:

“There are position reports every six hours and I’m always looking on the map to see how many more miles we still have to cover, how fast, and when we’ll arrive. There are lots of things that can affect the rankings, the weather can change things quickly and as we saw from the start of the race the Mediterranean is not very easy for anyone to manage so we hope to be close to each other and still able to earn miles on them. But we don’t think too much about third place as I think with our damaged keel it’s going to be too difficult to get near enough.?

At 535 miles behind, Dee Caffari (GBR) and Anna Corbella (ESP) on GAES Centros Auditivos are also anticipating the light winds, as they require flat water to make laminating repairs to their leaking ballast tank. Instead they have experienced fluctuating and unpredictable breezes that Dee Caffari this morning described as a ‘practice Doldrums’, but are this afternoon once again making 10 knots.

Hugh Boss Sail (Photo by Hugo Boss / Barcelona World Race)

Hugh Boss Sail (Photo by Hugo Boss / Barcelona World Race)

Having exited yesterday’s brief but fierce low pressure system, Forum Maritim Catala and Hugo Boss are the fastest of the fleet over the past 24 hours, with just under 200 miles dividing the pair. With the depression having rapidly moved south-east, the race is now on for both to make sufficient ground north to avoid the chasing high and accompanying light winds. Forum Maritim Catala having gained over 80 miles on Hugo Boss over the past 24 hours, and the competition between the two is yet to be settled.

 

Standings at 1400hrs Wednesday 23rd March, 2011

1              VIRBAC-PAPREC 3 in ‘ghost’ mode

2              MAPFRE at 3066,6 miles from the finish

3              RENAULT Z.E at 887,5 from the MAPFRE

4              ESTRELLA DAMM Sailing Team at 963,5 miles

5              NEUTROGENA at 1005 miles

6              GAES CENTROS AUDITIVOS at 1540,8 miles

7              HUGO BOSS at 3558,1 miles

8              FORUM MARITIM CATALA at 3749,4 miles

9              WE ARE WATER at 5462,2 miles

10            CENTRAL LECHERA ASTURIANA at 9371,2 miles

RTD         FONCIA

RTD         PRESIDENT

RTD         GROUPE BEL                                                                        

RTD         MIRABAUD

 

Quotes from today’s skippers:

Dee Caffari (GBR), GAES Centros Auditivos:
“It’s like a practice for the Doldrums that we’ve had. It’s a bit frustrating because we still can’t sail the boat at 100 per cent because we’re waiting to do the big repair, and yet we’re still really struggling with the conditions. But today’s been much better.

“I need to laminate some carbon over some damage in our ballast tanks that are structural to the boat. So we can’t sail the boat at 100 per cent because we’re upwind and we can’t afford the cracks to open up. But we can’t do the repair unless we’re in flat water to allow it to stick, so it’s a case of really looking after the boat.?

Ryan Breymaier (USA), Neutrogena:

“The Doldrums are going very well thus far, knock on wood. We have between 5 and 10 knots out of the breeze and it’s not stopped yet, so hopefully that continues.

“In these lighter conditions we’re not as compromised as we will be later on when there’s more wind and waves, so we’re pretty happy to be keeping up now and are differently worried about what’s going to happen when we get into the stronger upwind trade wind conditions a little later on. There is no real plan for it, the boat is the condition that it’s in and we do the best we can with what we have. At the moment that’s what we’re doing and that’s what we’re going to continue to do – you know you can’t change reality, and the reality is we are not capable to cant the keel to the maximum and that compromises our speed all the time, Boris and I have accepted that and we just get on with our day to day work.

“The sun is an issue every day. Right now in the cabin it’s 32 degrees and outside it’s probably 36, I don’t know – a lot! For me more than Boris I get burned very easily and I have factor 50 suncream at least every day and wear hats and that kind of stuff, so it’s a real problem for sure, especially in this area. I would’ve told you six weeks ago that the heat really bothered me a lot, but it was awfully cold down in the south for a long period of time! But all things considered though I would say the heat is worse than the cold though, and I think Boris agrees with me.?

Hugo Boss (Photo by Chris Cameron / DPPI / Barcelona World Race)

Hugo Boss (Photo by Chris Cameron / DPPI / Barcelona World Race)

It is certainly not the 50th birthday present that Groupe Bel skipper Kito De Pavant was looking for, especially not ‘second time around’.

Such is the ironic timing of the Laughing Cow’s crossing of the international date-line later today and tomorrow that De Pavant was passing his first 50th Birthday concerned about the weather situation but tomorrow he will facing up to the formidable tropical cyclone Atu when the ‘second edition’ of his 50th birthday comes around.

Both De Pavant and Spain’s Pepe Ribes, who both left Wellington on Tuesday night together on Groupe Bel and Estrella Damm, expressed their concern about how they would best deal with the trajectory and force of the challenging weather system which will propagate very strong winds and big, confused seas. Their key decisions will be based around the speed at which the system moves and both duos have been tracking the system consistently since before they left the Kiwi capital.

Mirabaud at Cook Strait (photo by Dave Greenberg)

Mirabaud at Cook Strait (photo by Dave Greenberg)

“ We don’t really know which way to deal with the problem: either by the south or by the north. What we do know it that it lies right on our course.” SaidDe Pavant this morning, “ It is a pretty violent and unpleasant character, not what you want for your birthday. The cyclone brings with it a lot of rain, a lot of wind, and big seas. It is a small but very compact phenomenon which can damage the boat, very risky.”

Pepe Ribes said this morning: “ The passage of the Atu cyclone will be very complicated and neither Alex nor I have ever been confronted by such strong winds and I don’t really know what it will do to us and we are worried to look after the boat. We have been looking at if for a while and still don’t know how we will cross it.”

The system is due to pass swiftly, the two boats which were in Wellington, will have it directly in their path, giving them the option to pass to the north which will at least give them the chance to use the westerlies on the north side of it, but they would need to sail a steeper angle and more miles to get there. The pragmatic solution might be to simply slow and avoid the worst of it

At the front of the fleet Spain’s Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez got to within 25 miles today of the long time race leader MAPFRE. The leading duo are nicely placed on the southern side of a progressive high pressure system which is allowing them a classical arc up to the NE to respect the second ice gate of the Pacific without having to worry about manoeuvres, simply having to sail fast towards the same target. As an instructive insight into the relative speeds of the 2007 generation former Foncia, built prior to the IMOCA Rule’s power cap, and the latest generation design, and of course the sailors potential, this is proving a thrilling encounter which is due to continue for a few days more at least. 

It was a triumphant but difficult passage through ‘home’ waters for the Barcelona World Race’s only Kiwi, Andy Meiklejohn who passed through the Cook Strait today, feeling a real mix of different emotions.

Hugo Boss at Wellington NZ , Cook Strait (Photo by Chris Cameron)

Hugo Boss at Wellington NZ , Cook Strait (Photo by Chris Cameron)

On the one hand Meiklejohn was feeling devastated and helpless at the earthquake which hit Christchurch, on the other he was intensely proud to be bringing the powerful Hugo Boss past Wellington, foregoing any technical stopover.

Having started the race with stand-in co-skipper Wouter Verbraak the duo have sailed a smart race so far, rising to seventh place, and now within 650 miles of the race’s podium. Alex Thomson was on the water off Wellington with technical manager Ross Daniel to greet the two co-skippers on the wet, bumpy ride past the capital.

“ We have had a tough time of the last seven weeks with several issues forcing us to be slower than optimal, this was also after a very light exit to the Med, conditions that the heaviest boat in the fleet definitely did not like.”Wrote Meiklejohn, “Wouter and I have managed to pool together our resources, our common strength and the belief  and with the support of Alex and our shore team to keep the yacht in the race, and here we are just 400 miles behind 4th place and the battle begins again.”

“ Our troubles however are insignificant compared to the disaster that has just hit the Christchurch region of New Zealand.  This is an area with incredible pride and emotional toughness.  They boast an unrivaled sporting success through their Cricket teams, netball teams and the All-conquering Crusaders rugby outfit who have dominated southern hemisphere rugby for the last 15 years.”

“ So it’s with real sadness that I sail up Cook Strait in sight of home, its hard to feel excited when there are so many people feeling so much pain.  Its great to celebrate what we do and getting to the halfway stage is an achievement in itself but it pales in comparison to what happens in the real world.  It’s a real mix of emotions that’s hard to contain and harder to put down in words.  We Kiwis are brought up to be hardened to tragedy and sadness but sometimes it doesn’t feel right, sometimes there’s a bigger picture.”

“ Christchurch, our thoughts are with you.  Look after each other, give those you don’t know a hug or a helping hand, it’s with that bond that you will once again pull through and, like the phoenix, rise again.”

Rankings at 1400hrs Wednesday 23rd February 2011

 1              VIRBAC-PAPREC 3  at 10076 miles to finish

2              MAPFRE 38 miles from the leader

3              RENAULT Z.E at 812 miles

4               NEUTROGENA at  940  miles

5              MIRABAUD at 1066  miles

6              GROUPE BEL at  1278 miles

7              ESTRELLA DAMM Sailing Team at 1282 miles

8              HUGO BOSS at 1454 miles

9              GAES CENTROS AUDITIVOS at 1482 miles

10            FORUM MARITIM CATALA at 2966 miles

11            CENTRAL LECHERA ASTURIANA at 3284 miles

12            WE ARE WATER at 3900 miles

RTD         FONCIA

RTD         PRESIDENT

Quotes:

Alex Thomson (GBR) Alex Thomson Racing Team/Hugo Boss: “ It was amazing to go out there and see the boat and see the guys, a bit weird in a lot of ways, but the guys were in great spirits, the boat looked fantastic and I just feel very proud of what they have achieved so far in a very difficult set of circumstances. They continue to stay positive and are really looking forwards at the possibilities.

The mast track problem means they can’t currently sail with the mainsail above the first reef. So basically upwind in anything less than 17 knots of wind they are compromised, going slower, and downwind in anything less than 22 knots they are going slower. So the boat is definitely not being sailed to its potential, but when you look at the options to stop or not – losing 48 hours, potentially nearly a 1000 miles – when there is the possibility of them doing the repair on board was too difficult for them to bear, and if I was in the same situation I would have made the same choice.

We went out and were alongside them for about half an hour and both Ross, our operations manager, and I had a happy conversation with them for about half an hour on the VHF, lots of laughing and joking, them suggesting I get a hair cut. It was fun, but it was also difficult: Andy and I had planned to be doing this race together so for both of us it was probably a bit strange, but I think that the reality is that the guys are in the groove, they have worked together brilliantly, they have formed a great partnership. Their place is on the boat and my place is on the land on this one. That is just a fact.

It is a difficult one. The guys speak to our team every day, sometimes more than once a day, but usually it is about media stuff, or about technical matters: the media stuff does not involve me and my forte is not the technical side, so I am acting as a bit of a supporter really, a little bit of a mentor really. It is kind of strange and I feel at a bit of a loose end at times. But I have accepted the situation but today it was real proof to me that I feel good about the situation, There is nothing I can do about it. I can be happy about where they are that they are fighting and they are doing a great job.”

Kito de Pavant (FRA) / Sebastien Audigane (FRA) on Groupe Bell At Cook Strait (Photo by Chris Cameron / DPPI / Barcelona World Race)

Kito de Pavant (FRA) / Sebastien Audigane (FRA) on Groupe Bell At Cook Strait (Photo by Chris Cameron / DPPI / Barcelona World Race)

Kito de Pavant (FRA), Groupe Bel:“Fifty years old, it is the fourth Cape of this round the world race for me. I am not feeling very birthday. We did not have very much time to prepare anything because we were a bit preoccupied in Wellington, there was a lot of work to do. The weather conditions before we stopped were not so good, and we have lost a lot of time. And so the festivities have gone by the by. It is not that important, especially with a cyclone which is approaching, and we don’t really know which way to to deal with the problem: either by the south or by the north. What we do know it that it lies right on our course. It is a pretty violent and unpleasant character, not what you want for your birthday. The cyclone brings with it a lot of rain, a lot of wind, and big seas. The sea, especially will be huge and the winds might be 70-80kts. It is a small but very compact phenomenon which can damage the boat, very risky.

Wisest would be to leave it to the north but that does not take us towards Cape Horn. And of course if it gets dangerous then we would just turn and avoid the worst of the waves.

The difficult conditions should not last very long, 24 hours maybe and then after that we should have some strong winds which should allow us to go quickly towards the ice gates. The Spanish crew are just behind, we can see their lights. It is reassuring to be with them facing the same things. But the truth is that in such circumstances the second boat would not be able to do too much. We ate together yesterday evening and it would be good if we remained together until Barcelona.

It took us a few weeks to get into the rhythm of the race and now you feel like its starting again from zero. We have enjoyed the comforts ashore and so now it is not so easy to set out again. And the 48 hour stopover is not good, it is too long or too short. But this is a curious birthday, because as we pass the date-line I will have two birthdays!

Pepe Ribes (ESP) Estrella Damm:“We have Groupe Bel about a mile away and it will eb good to sail with someone again as a reference. The passage of the Atu cyclone will be very complicated and neither Alex nor I have ever been confronted by such strong winds and I don’t really know what it will do to us and we are worried to look after the boat. We have been looking at if for a while and still don’t know how we will cross it.

Our morale is not so high and so we must get back to the feelings we had and stop thinking about were we were in the race and what has happened to us. We need to get back into that mind set because the race is only half way.”

 (Photo By CHRIS CAMERON / DPPI / BARCELONA WORLD RACE)

(Photo By CHRIS CAMERON / DPPI / BARCELONA WORLD RACE)

Forum Maritim Catala In The Indian Ocean (Photo by FMC)

Forum Maritim Catala In The Indian Ocean (Photo by FMC)

The leading group of the Barcelona World Race may be ready to reflect on their passage across an unusually lenient south Indian Ocean but the tail enders of the fleet have been dealing with a punishment which is more perhaps more typical.

The top five boats will already be considering their passage to the Cook Straits which looks set to be influenced by the timing of a high pressure system which may give favour to the second and third placed MAPFRE and Estrella Damm, cost some miles to the leaders Virbac-Paprec 3, and possibly more to Groupe Bel and Renault ZE Sailing Team.

But while their problems, with one known exception, are largely mathematical – evaluating gains and losses, reducing risk and exposure, the three teams at the back of the fleet were well into a strong low pressure system. For most of the Spanish crews this will be their first real experience of stormy conditions since passing into the Indian Ocean.

“The windspeed indicator does not drop below 45 knots and at the moment it is topping 53. In these conditions it is a real battle to get the mainsail down.? Reported Gerard Marín from Fòrum Marítim Català this afternoon .

The laughing cow, on the horns of a dilemma?

Kito De Pavant and Seb Audigane on Groupe Bel, the laughing cow, are caught on the horns of a dilemma. To pit-stop or not to pit-stop?

That is their question which they and their team need to evaluate having today revealed that they have been sailing without two key sails – their big gennaker and heavy kite – since before the Cape Verde islands.  De Pavant’s team reported that the first incident happened 29 days ago, when the fleet leaders were sailing fast in strong NE’ly trade winds.

The boat is reported to have luffed violently damaging the big gennaker which was rendered unusable. They continued under heavy spinnaker which they damaged the next day. De Pavant explains subsequently that they no longer have the ideal downwind and reaching sails for the wind range 15-25 knots. They are understood to be considering a technical stop, possibly in New Zealand. Any stop after leaving the Indian Ocean must be of a mandatory minimum of 48 hours. Teams can carry up to 10 officially measured sails which. Up to 60 percent of a damaged sail can be replaced.

From having been in sight of Estrella Damm over recent days Groupe Bel has steadily dropped back to be nearly 200 miles behind the third placed Spanish boat this evening, De Pavant considering that Groupe Bel has been up to 20% below her usual polar speeds compared with Estrella Damm.

Swiss Timing

Swiss skipper Dominique Wavre was given to comment on the unfortunate timing which has been certainly been precise, but very unfortunate. Each time he and Michèle Paret  have come north to satisfy a gate of the course they have been unlucky enough to be slowed by high pressure, whilst others have been much more blessed. Neutrogena have been dealt the same cards. Mirabaud was slowed to under 8 knots at times today but the sixth and seventh placed boats were joining a fast moving low pressure this afternoon.

And the catch up continues for Estrella Damm, this afternoon just 13 miles from passing MAPFRE for second who have been consistently slower than their usual selves, while Hugo Boss had cut the lead of GAES Centros Auditivos to 17 miles and remain around one knot quicker. Virbac-Paprec 3 leads MAPFRE by 526 miles.

 

Anna Corbella on GAES with new friend (Photo by BWR / GAES)

Anna Corbella on GAES with new friend (Photo by BWR / GAES)

Standings at 1400hrs UTC Wednesday 9th February 2011

1              VIRBAC-PAPREC 3 at13721,4 miles to the finish

2              MAPFRE at526,6 miles to the leader

3              ESTRELLA DAMM Sailing Team at539,4 miles

4              GROUPE BEL at731,7 miles

5              RENAULT Z.E at1042,4 miles

6              MIRABAUD at1578,3 miles

7              NEUTROGENA at1676,4 miles

8              GAES CENTROS AUDITIVOS at2210,3 miles

9              HUGO BOSS at2227 miles

10            FORUM MARITIM CATALA at3279,9 miles

12            CENTRAL LECHERA ASTURIANA at3548,8 miles

RTD        FONCIA

RTD        PRESIDENT

 

Andy Meiklejohn (NZL) and Wouter Verbraak (NED), HUGO BOSS: “ We are fast reaching, surfing safari Southern Ocean style. It is fast reaching, very wet, the boat accelerates quickly to 25-26 knots. The cloud cover is cleared and we have blue skies and sunshine, water is 17 degrees. It is really enjoyable hand steering in the waves trying to maximise every mile we have. We have the guys from Hugo Boss Germany on line as well.

It is hard to stay on top of time of day when you are moving so far east, but we try to make it work by always having breakfast when the sun rises and then go from there.

We have had an amazing couple of days, really fun to properly race the boat always looking for the protection and finding a nice balance. One thing we have learned is that there are more gears on this boat, some daggerboard, sails, and we have been really creative in finding new gears, and being fast. The weather has helped and that has helped us catch, but even now we are getting closer and we are still catching. It is looking good. Rumour has it the girls have some nice red wine and toast so we can really close and get a nice platter from them.!?

Alex Pella (ESP), Estrella Damm:”We have gybed before them (MAPFRE). We caught up a lot. The truth is that we are going super fast in the Indian Ocean. We have had almost four days with good winds,  reaching and downwind in the right direction for eating miles. We spent nearly three days fighting with Groupe Bel and now we see stretching. We do our stuff and by now it is perfect. Pepe drives the boat very well and I really enjoy my watches as well. I hope it keeps like that for a long time!

I think we will pass quite quickly the Australian barrier. After that, a front comes with a low, probably the strongest wind so far, but that will be in two or three days. At the moment I think the crossing of the barrier will be very clean.
We are very excited. We are third and the boat is performing very well. We would have signed being across Cape Leeuwin in this situation. We will soon have a new opportunity to toast with beer, which will now be chillier. The waves are large and crossed. We used to have the wind on the side and the wave n the back and now downwind and wave at the side. Recently the sky was gray and it rained a little, but now it’s been cleared and it’s a beautiful day in the Indian.

It would be nice to get second, but we have not done even half the race and we must keep our feet on the ground. What is important is that we are good and the boat as well and we are eating and resting well in order to keep moving forward. ”

Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret moving sails inside MIRABAUD (Photo by Th.Martinez/Mirabaud)

Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret moving sails inside MIRABAUD (Photo by Th.Martinez/Mirabaud)

Dominique Wavre (SUI) Mirabaud:“Every time when we have gone towards an ice gate we have been met with an anticyclone. We have managed to get away from Neutrogena and this time they are behind. Since the start we have arrived at the worse times, bad luck I suppose and the saving grace I suppose is that we have shared our bad luck cards with Neutrogena.

But we had some brilliant times before we got planted into another anticyclone. The conditions are not too tough. With the position of the ice gates we flirt with the anticyclones rather than the depressions. And so it goes quite tamely compared with my past  memories. But physically we are tired all the same. We have so many maneuvers and changes to make because of the anticyclones and they are more stressful than good depressions with stable winds.

We stick to French time on the boat so that we don’t wake people on land when we need to communicate. We adapt our sleep pattern because effective, deep sleep is most effective at night and so we try to adapt to that.

Our personal hygiene is not ideal. I have not shaved for a week and I’ve not had time to. With everything going on then that slides down the agenda.

When we were north of Kerguelen I recalled being there after my keel problem in the last Vendée Globe, to bring the boat 2500 miles was really stressful and one of the worst memories of my life. But now the keel system is much more reliable and it feels so much safer to be racing with Michèle.?

Group Bel (Photo courtesy of BWR / Groupe Bel)

Group Bel (Photo courtesy of BWR / Groupe Bel)

Kito De Pavant (FRA) Groupe Bel:“We have been sailing close hauled a lot, and we’ve been running downwind in either a very strong or weak wind, which enabled us to continue at a good pace

On the other hand, in the last few days, everything got back to normal with a fair wind of about twenty knots, and this is when the gennaker has been lacking. We are 20% below Groupe Bel’s performance. Conclusion, Estrella Damm which we were sailing in view of less than a week ago, has flown away 100 miles ahead of us.?
“Today, there is nothing vital that requires us to stop? Kito analyses. “We will make our decision as soon as we have a precise idea of the weather conditions around New Zealand, which may or may not favor a pitstop, and which might penalize us in relation to our contenders. It is also possible that other crews are currently considering the same question. The race is far from over…?

Estrella Damm (Photo courtesy of BWR / Estrella Damm)

Estrella Damm (Photo courtesy of BWR / Estrella Damm)

Estrella Damm (Photo courtesy of Barcelona World Race)

Estrella Damm (Photo courtesy of Barcelona World Race)

The excitement of Saturday, when they both took over first and second places, is behind the Spanish duos.

Ribes and Pella keep their options open as they lead into the complex south Atlantic, entering negotiation with Saint Helena to try and pass through or round a split personality anticyclone which dominates the passage down to the Roaring Forties and the fast lane into the South Atlantic Ocean.

The options for the leading group are, in fact, many. On Mirabaud, in fourth, Dominique Wavre, the fleet’s veteran with 30 passages up and down this stretch of water – crewed, solo and as a duo- said today that he had assimilated at least ten routing choices.

One of the difficult aspects is that the weather models may be accurate for the next few days, but for seven to nine days hence, when the real ‘end game’ for this stage plays out for the fleet, passing to Starboard of Gough Island and the Atlantic Gate, then it becomes much less clear.

Mapfre (Photo courtesy of Mapfre / Barcelona World Race)

Mapfre (Photo courtesy of Mapfre / Barcelona World Race)

Before they went undercover today, MAPFRE’s double Olympic medal winning helm Iker Martinez wrote that in some ways they had breathed a sigh of relief that the two French IMOCA Open 60’s Foncia and Virbac-Paprec 3, elected to make a technical repair stop in Récife as he felt that the level they had been sailing at was too high for the MAPFRE pair to live with long term.

In fact the duo from Spain’s rugged Atlantic north coast had shown a propensity to at least match Foncia and Virbac-Paprec 3 in the fast, trade winds going.

The Recife pit stop was over first for the double Vendée Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux and co-skipper François Gabart, back on the race course since yesterday evening.

Then first edition winner Jean-Pierre Dick with Loïck Peyron were back on the track at 2300hrs UTC. Since then they have been the among the quickest three boats in the fleet. But their westerly routing, closer to the Brasilian coast means they still spend miles against the leader.

When the MAPFRE duo blink back on to the tracker screens Monday evening, on the 1900hrs UTC ranking – stealth mode sends them under the radar for six consecutive position reports – where are they most likely to reappear?

Given their fleet racing experience and sensibilities, one might expect them to try to cover the French duo on the inshore western lane, looking to reconnect with the two duos which have set the pace and strategy so far, those with the most successes IMOCA racing around the world.

Furtive or Ghost mode can be used four times, once in each ‘ocean’, and is a new innovation for this edition of the race. The standings consider the ghost mode boat fixed to her last position, hence MAPFRE remains third until the other pursuing boats pass.

With all of the fleet now in the Southern Hemisphere, since We Are Water crossed at 0230hrs, the fleet compression has continued in small part due to the leaders’ pit stop, but considering that four days ago the deficit from first to last was nearly 700 miles, and now it is just over 500 miles.

Moving into the better established SE’ly and E’ly trade winds resets the routines after the doldrums for the middle order racers, giving a chance to catch up with domestic and technical chores to ensure the respective IMOCA Open 60’s are in perfect shape.

But the easy routine also offers a little down-time for the co-skippers.

On today’s live Audio and VisioConferences (streamed live at 1000hrs to 1100hrs UTC daily on www.barcelonaworldrace.com) Ryan Breymaier from Neutrogena remarked how pleased he was to have had time to catch up with digital media loaded on to a USB which connected him with friends and family from his native USA.

And on Renault ZE Sailing Team, Toño Piris today explained how he and co-skipper Pachi Rivero had nurtured back to health a tiny waterlogged bird which had landed on their eighth placed IMOCA Open 60 to hitch a ride.

Their little visitor left, fully re-charged, and ready for its long passage home, just like Piris and Rivero.

1400hrs UTC Standings, Sunday 16th January.

1              ESTRELLA DAMM Sailing Team at 21 119 miles to finish

2              GROUPE BEL at 137 miles

3              MAPFRE mode from 16/01 at 0930hrs

4              MIRABAUD at 189 miles

5              FONCIA at 223 miles du leader

6              VIRBAC-PAPREC 3 at 269 miles

7              NEUTROGENA at 291 miles

8              RENAULT Z.E Sailing Team at 333 miles

9              GAES CENTROS AUDITIVOS at 350 miles

10            HUGO BOSS at 429 miles

11            CENTRAL LECHERA ASTURIANA at 465 miles

12            WE ARE WATER at 517 miles

13            FMC at 526 miles

  RTD        PRESIDENT

Quotes

Francois Gabart (FRA)Foncia:
“ We took over the boat again after the shore team. Over the course of the day had made some small repairs, little things which were not working. We had to just be patient because of course all this time the boat was not going anywhere. I carried on watching the rankings and saw the others moving on and then we sailed out again at 1700hrs UTC.

We are disappointed to lose ground on a stop like this, but are happy that it went well. The day before I had run some routings for setting out again at 1800hrs. So today we are in the race with a repaired boat, in good shape in and in a ranking which is far from bad.

We can smile and sleep contently back now we are back on course. For the moment the breeze is not very stable.  It is quite pleasant to steer when it is like this and it saves a bit of energy not using the pilots. And the boat certainly moves a few tenths of a knot more quickly.

I had not really registered that MAPFRE had gone into Furtive mode. The field is quite open even if we are a little bit to the west, but we are several thousand miles to the Gate Number 1. We have looked at the situation very carefully yesterday evening and this morning. We did ask ourselves if it was worth using Furtive mode. But for the moment there was no big reason to do it. But it is cool that they start to use it. And today that does not change anything with our strategy.

There are small depressions which are moving SE. The idea is to get to Gate 1 round the western side of the anticyclone which moves with some small low pressure systems. So the question is can you cut the cheese (corner) and go directly to Gate 1 or to stay with the pressure and to seek the depressions which build off South America.”

Iker Martinez (ESP) MAPFRE:

“Our training was probably not as good as we really would have like in this kind of two handed sailing so that was painful for us in the Mediterranean when I guess we really did not know how best to order and choose the right priorities in things. When you have a number of problems up ahead you need to know how to make the decision, that is the case with the navigation. Some times you have to think of everything, and if the boat is going slowly you can’t divide your brain across the different things, tactics and the speed of the boat.

Foncia and Virbac Paprec 3 will likely catch us again because of the level that they are setting, that they have demonstrated in the first part of the race when they were very, very strong. The pace and rhythm is very hard for us to reach, to sustain their level. For the time being the time factor is back with us. But we will see how long it takes them to get back to us.

There are two tough days ahead. The routing models show that Estrella Damm will get 200 miles in front of us in two days. Each time they increase their lead it is slamming our fingers in a door, but we have to be patient and then it will be our turn to strike back.

The key point right now is how to get across the high we have just in fornt of us and to get toe the First Gate in the South Atlantic. The boat can’t jump across the high, so we will have to get around it. So that is why the next days will be so intensive until we get to the south and speed up with the westerly winds.”

Dee Caffari (GBR) GAES Centros Auditivos:

“We have some nice sailing today, finally the rain clouds have gone and we have much more stabilised, constant upwind conditions and so it is lovely sailing.

Weather wise ahead it is not clear cut at all, but it is nice for us for sure to be in the saem weather system as others, so that is important for us.

The Doldrums were hard work for us, you could not leave the boat for two minutes, so it is nice to be in established wind and that gives us a chance to go through the boat and do all the little jobs which are outstanding and to start looking tactically at the south.

We lost some miles in the trade winds when the others were pushing really hard, but tactically I feel I have had a much better race than before and I am much happier with the decisions I have made. It’s all good.

Ryan Breymaier (USA) Neutrogena:

“I got a USB key with photos of sailing I have done in the past, an essay that my cousin wrote on our ancestors, some interesting stuff to read, chocolates. It was good. I miss my friends and family I haven’t seen because I have been in Europe for so long, so it is cool to get things like that. And you do get a little bit of time just now so it is good to be able to catch up.”

 

virbac-paprec

Jean Pierre Dick onboard Virbac-Paprec 3 (Photo © arnaud/studio / Yvan Zedda

Jean Pierre Dick onboard Virbac-Paprec 3 (Photo © arnaud/studio / Yvan Zedda

The course is very long and, as he very well knows much can happen when racing around the world but Jean-Pierre Dick sailed into the second week of his second Barcelona World RACE in the same position as his first: leading the pack.

Were he blessed with a moment today to cast his mind back, Dick, might recall that in the 2007-8 race he lead into the second week by around 15 miles. One week in his nearest rival was Vendée Globe winner Vincent Riou, sailing with Seb Josse. Today, as his closest challenger is also the current Vendée Globe champion, Michel Desjoyeaux, with François Gabart on Foncia. And as the second week rolled in this afternoon, Virbac-Paprec 3’s lead is around 12 miles.

And the passage time to the Canaries from Barcelona should be quite similar last time to this edition, although this time the skippers have free reign to pass the Canaries as they wish.

In the first race Paprec-Virbac, the Farr designed predecessor to Dick’s new IMOCA Open 60, took 7 days 19 hours 01 minute for the elapsed time from Barcelona to what was the edition’s Canaries gate, set between Grand Canaria and Fuerteventura.

Virbac Paprec 3 (Photo by Yann Zedda)

Virbac Paprec 3 (Photo by Yann Zedda)

This afternoon at 1600hrs UTC, with 7 days 3 hours elapased since the start Dick and Peyron were 45 miles north of that latitude, making just under 8 knots.

 

The leading  duo were set to pass close to the west side of the Canaries’ most western island La Palma later this evening, although both the Virbac-Paprec duo and their pursuers on Foncia have had a testing day working downwind in light and fickle sailing conditions.

The duel between third placed Mirabaud and Estrella Damm continues with the Barcelona duo Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes, fourth, are looking set to invest in a more westerly course, taking a delicate route between a light wind zone to their left, and the encroaching high pressure area spreading from west, but seeming to signal a desire to get well west of the Canaries.

Dominique Wavre and Michèle Paret have made a gain of about 10 miles on their Spanish rivals over the course of the day, a solid third on the leaderboard, 70 miles behind the leaders. The couple, at this point in the last race were more than twice that distance behind Dick and Damian Foxall (IRL), and lay seventh.

Meantime the group immediately behind have been dealing with the problem of passing through the E and SE of Madeira. Some have almost certainly strayed too close and were slowed in lighter winds through the lee of the high ground on the islands. Notably Dee Caffari (GBR) today rued their late decision on GAES Centros Auditivos to change from a westerly passage to the east, losing some miles on their near rivals. And after their charge down the east side of the group, making big gains yesterday the duo on Président, Jean Le Cam (FRA) and Bruno Garcia (ESP) were struggling this afternoon in light winds.

At home in England recovering from his emergency appendectomy 48 hours before the start of the race, landbound Alex Thomson had the bonus of being able to be at the birth of  his and partner Kate Denham’s first child, a boy called Oscar.

Quotes:

Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA), Virbac-Paprec 3: “Our summary of the first week is very positive. We are in front. What more could we ask for? If we would have liked a little more then it would not to have been stuck for a couple of hours last night approaching Madeira.

On board the atmosphere is constructive and we look forward to carrying on like that. The next 36 hours will be difficult with light winds. After that we will be in the trade winds. We just work to what feels right just now for us both. Loick shouted at me because I sleep with my head torch on.”

François Gabart (FRA), Foncia:“Since the start, the conditions have not been easy, many operation and manoeuvres, many questions and strategic questions, especially yesterday dealing with the front. I am pretty happy because I feel we have sailed pretty well, even if we are not leading. But we are doing everything to catch up with those in front.”

Dee Caffari (GBR) GAES Centros Auditivos:“We are disappointed with our position today. Last night we were late making a tactical decision as we were originally aiming to head west of Madeira taking the same route as Virbac- Paprec 3 and Foncia. We realised too late that we would not make it far enough west and turned south to head leeward of the islands but that has put us too close and we are caught in the wind shadow of Madeira, slowing us right down.

The previous 48 hours have been full on and we have not been looking after ourselves. The change in conditions overnight have meant that we have been able to sleep and eat so we feel a million times better and are ready for the fight ahead. We are hopeful that we can make good the miles lost and the lighter conditions will allow us to catch up on the guys ahead.”

Barcelona World Race Fleet At Start (Photo courtesy of Barcelona World Race)

Barcelona World Race Fleet At Start (Photo courtesy of Barcelona World Race)

The 14 IMOCA 60s have started in the Barcelona World Race.

In a north-north-westerly breeze the fleet got a clean start, well spread across the length of the line. Foncia and Groupe Bel each got off with pace to pull away into the lead, while Gaes Centros Auditivos got a good start at the inshore end of the line. President and Virbac-Paprec 3 close behind, Mirabaud was late to the starting area.

Foncia and Groupe Bel duelling hard on their way to the North Buoy in patchy conditions with a slightly sloppy sea state created by the wash from hundreds of specator boats – unsurprising as Groupe Bel measured fastest during speed tests in the Istanbul Europa Race in similar conditions before the newest IMOCA 60s in the fleet were built, whilst Michel Desjoyeaux has made no secret of his hunt for weight savings.

Forum Maritim Catala, a 10-year-old design formerly known as Kingfisher, showed impressive speed in the early stages, follwed by the Owen-Clarke sistership designs of President and Gaes Centros Auditivos.

Barcelona World Race Skippers (Photo courtesy of Barcelona World Race)

Barcelona World Race Skippers (Photo courtesy of Barcelona World Race)

Located three miles from the starting line, the 14 monohulls passed the mark down their starboard side in a light north-north-eastly wind of around 5 to 6 knots. The running order around the first mark was:

1 – Groupe Bel (12: 21: 25)
2 – Foncia (12: 22: 48)
3 – Centros Gaes Auditivos (12: 26: 34)
4 – Forum Maritim Catala
5 – President
6 – Virbac-Paprec 3
7 – Renault ZE
8 – Mapfre
9 – Central Asturiana Lechera
10 – Neutrogena
11 – Estrella Damm
12 – Mirabaud
13 – Hugo Boss
14 – We Are The Water

Only 25,000 miles, give or take,  to go !!

Barcelona World Race Skippers Cast Off (Photo courtesy of Barcelona World Race)

Estrella Damm Casts Off (Photo courtesy of Barcelona World Race)

GAES Centros Auditivos crossing the finish line in Calpe ( Photo © FNOB )

GAES Centros Auditivos crossing the finish line in Calpe ( Photo © FNOB )

Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella reached the finish line of Leg 4 of the Vuelta a Espana a Vela in the port of Calpe at 1157hrs BST today. On the South run through the Atlantic GAES Centros Auditivos held their own with the leading group on this, the longest of the six legs of the competition. As expected, the Mediterranean dealt conditions that resulted in a loss of speed that saw them drop back from their closest race rivals. 

GAES Centros Auditivos enjoyed a very good first half of the race, crossing the Gibraltar Strait in fourth place behind Safran, PRB and Estrella Damm.

Commenting from the dockside, Dee Caffari said:

“The first half was magnificent. The spinnaker went up all the time and we have not changed the configuration of the sails since we left the Vigo estuary and this allowed us to get away and put us back in front of the fleet.”

Anna Corbella added: “Tactically, we suffered in the Mediterranean resulting in us being left behind. Overall we are pleased with our performance although it is clear that we still have many things to learn to gain better performance from the boat.”

Marc Guillemot onboard Safran was the first boat to cross the finish line securing his third win of the competition. Estrella Damm and PRB completed the podium with W Hotels and Movistar crossing the finish line in fourth and fifth places respectively.

At the end of leg 4, the Vuelta a Espana a Vela is led by Safran, followed by PRB in second. Estrella Damm is the highest ranking Spanish in third whilst GAES Centros Auditivos retains sixth place overall.

Leg 5 begins this Sunday with a short sprint of 140 miles to Palma.