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)