Barcelona World Race and the most dramatic stage of the course is fast approaching for BWR leaders Virbac-Paprec 3, as Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron (FRA) approach the northerly tip of New Zealand’s South Island and prepares to cross the Cook Strait.
Loïck Peyron and Jean-Pierre Dick - Barcelona World Race
Leading the Barcelona World Race by over 540 miles, the short passage through the Cook Strait – which separate the North and South Islands by just twenty miles at their narrowest point – will be something of a victorious homecoming for Virbac-Paprec 3. The latest generation IMOCA 60 was built in New Zealand at the Cookson yard in Auckland.
For skipper Jean-Pierre Dick this will also be the second time he has led the Barcelona World Race through the iconic stage of the course: after doing so in 2007 following forty-four days and thirty-two minutes of racing he went on to win the inaugural double-handed round the world race.
The high pressure system which has lodged itself either side of the South Island has had less effect on the leaders’ progress than anticipated, and the French pair were just five point six miles off Farewell Point, making nine point seven knots of boat speed at 1730 (UTC) this afternoon. They are anticipated to pass Wellington around 0800hrs in the morning of Wednesday February 16 (Barcelona time, the equivalent of Wednesday evening in New Zealand which is 12 hours ahead of the Spanish start city).
'It's faster than expected, 'wrote Jean-Pierre Dick to race organizers this afternoon. 'In six or seven hours we’ll pass Farewell Point, at about 1900hrs (GMT, 2000hrs UTC) and then we have about 90 nautical miles of beating upwind into a north-westerly with lots of tacks which will take us around twelve hours. So that means we’ll be at Wellington around 0700hrs (GMT, 0800hrs UTC) on the sixteenth, so around 2000hrs local time (we might be on time to be on the news with Claire Chazal!)'
Just how close they were to landfall was evident a few hours later when Jean-Pierre Dick again emailed from just off Farewell Point to say could smell a nearby farm: 'No, I’m not dreaming, it really does smell of cows here! In the flesh and blood too! After so many few weeks at sea, it's weird but strangely pleasant.'
New Zealand was looming large for the rest of the fleet this afternoon also, with Mapfre and Estrella Damm also having to contend with the same high pressure system just west of the South Island. The anticyclone has slowed second-placed Mapfre’s progress to just five and a half knots over the course of this afternoon and saw them lose thirty miles to the front runners.
Estrella Damm, around 120 miles back in third, have managed to keep their pace up to over ten knots so far, but may well run into the same light winds zone. Groupe Bel, over 210 miles behind to the north-west of Estrella Damm, was hopeful that they could avoid the system:
'In front of us we have a large bubble of high pressure which hopefully will shift to the south-east and let us pass. But nothing is less certain. We all have the same weather information and the same software and when we run the computer it tells us to go straight. So we're going straight, 'said Kito de Pavant (FRA) today.
However, Groupe Bel have committed to stopping in Wellington for repairs, a pit-stop which has to be of at least forty eight hours duration at this stage of the race. The ‘laughing cow’ is expected to arrive in Wellington on Saturday morning, and their shore crew is already in place preparing for as fast a turnaround for the team as possible.
Andy Meiklejohn, the sole New Zealander in the race, had another reason to celebrate this week. Besides nearing his home country, the Hugo Boss co-skipper revealed that he’d received a special piece of news yesterday: 'I got a Valentine’s Day present yesterday which was from my wife Kirsten. We knew we are due to have another child but it was finding out the sex: it’s a boy – so look out world, little Zach’s got a brother on the way! I’m really happy.
We would be happy if it was a girl or a boy, but finding out the surprise at this time in the race is quite poignant given that my family’s down in New Zealand and Australia for a few weeks, so it’s really nice to know this and feel connected to them again. It’s easy to lose the connection when you’re out here so long.'
Rankings at 1400hrs UTC Tuesday 15th February
1 Virbac-Paprec at 11568 miles to finish
2 Mapfre at 541 miles to leader
3 Estrella Damm Sailing Team at 662 miles
4 Groupe Bel at 870 miles
5 Renault Z.E at 1318 miles
6 Mirabaud at 1682 miles
7 Neutrogena at 1702 miles
8 Hugo Boss at 1945 miles
9 Gaes Centros Auditivos at 2103 miles
10 Forum Maritim Catala at 3905 miles
11 Central Lechera Asturiana at 4193 miles
12 We Are Water at 4440 miles