Barcelona World Race first Atlantic strategic test the big one?

Anna Corbella and Dee Caffari onboard GAES Centros Auditivos - Barcelona World Race 2011
© Chris Cameron / DPPI / Barcelona World Race
Barcelona World Race - The first strategic test of the Atlantic could be the big one for Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez. The binary choice – west or east – as Martinez described it this morning, could either prove a ladder to climb back to Jean Pierre-Dick and Loïck Peyron on Virbac-Paprec 3, or it could be the best opportunity yet for the French duo to, as Martinez said, ‘finish the job’.

Almost on cue this afternoon the leading Virbac-Paprec 3 duo, with 204 miles of margin in their pocket, gybed south and east to stay with the extra wind pressure of the low pressure system they have been riding as it tracks east. This gives the race leaders the chance to score more fast, easy miles to the east, but the gybe telegraphs their choice, loud and clear, to the Spanish Olympic medallists. Since their halyard stop, they have already regained 70 miles to Virbac-Paprec 3.

So now it is up to Martinez and Fernandez to respond. The Barcelona World Race leaders since 23rd January still hold the upper hand, but their choice is not without risks. The eastwards track of the high pressure, and indeed its general evolution is certainly not a precise science. If they go west, which seems likely, their payback comes later in the play, and – of the two options – this is the lower risk strategy.

Of course the French duo have their 200 miles to gamble with, but when the dénouement comes the worst that can happen for Spain’s most successful sailors of their generation is that they lose some of their 1408 miles margin to third.

To most intents and purposes – barring big dramas - second is secure, and to Iker and Xabi second place is second place: no matter if they are 30 seconds behind Virbac-Paprec 3 at the finish, 300 miles behind or 3 days.

As the Spanish sailing icons were moving into an easier night in the south Atlantic, one that afforded some welcome sleep to them both, a vital chance to recharge after their lonely island halt and MacGuyver-esque previous night, a glittering awards ceremony in Madrid was crowning them Spain’s Sailors of the Year in absentia, particularly recognising their third 49er World Championships title.

Anna Corbella and Dee Caffari were announced as Women’s Sailing Crew of the Year and the Fundació Navegació Oceánica Barcelona’s team was named Sailing Team of the Year, and the organisation’s Pere Sarquella was given Organiser of the Year.

The predicted compression of the fleet between third placed Renault ZE Sailing Team and Estrella Damm continues unchecked. Groupe Bel have closed to within four miles of Mirabaud this afternoon, while Ryan Breymaier on Neutrogena confirmed that they have been suffering from technical problems over the last 48 hours which have significantly compromised their attack on third placed Pachi Rivero and Toño Piris.

Breymaier remained unspecific about the exact nature of their recent travails, looking forwards to being the fleet’s first co-skipper to pass Cape Horn for the first time ever:

'We have had some technical issues which we have been working through and we has a front which passed leaving us a with a wind which was shifty and light, and we have been trying to resolve some technical problems for about two days now.'

'At this point the issues are more or less behind us, we have made some repairs which have worked and hopefully we can stay now at the good speeds we are making for the foreseeable future.'

'We had a little bit of leaking in the hydraulic system which is now fixed. That was the primary thing and that made it hard to sail at full potential for a while. We have not been able to use the big sails for a while because of it. We have the big sails back up.'

'It is a really crap feeling to know that you are slow compared to the other boats, so we just worked as fast as we could to get things sorted out. We had a lot of advice from people on the shore as to what we needed to do to get it all sorted out. And now we are very happy to be back in a position where we can sail the boat to its potential again. It is just terrible, every minute that you know that you are losing time to other boats is a real shame, and that is the position we found ourselves in unfortunately.'

Seventh placed Estrella Damm’s Pepe Ribes confirmed today the extent of his knee problem which is limiting his activity and requiring them to set up well in advance their strategies, seeking to reduce the number of manoeuvres required wherever possible.

'The boat is doing 18 knots, bouncing and falling around a bit, moving from side to side, and I have a leg I can not use. We try to cut to a minimum the maneuvering so that when the wind comes we are well positioned. Our ribs? We are feeling better each day but trying not to make so many sail changes. I also have a knee problem that I will have until the end of the race.'

In Wellington the first assessment of the broken mast of Central Lechera Asturiana is being completed with Auckland’s Southern Spars having now been asked to develop repair options if possible, but it seems certain there will be no short term, easy solution to get Juan Merediz and Fran Palacio back afloat quickly.

Rankings at 1400hrs Saturday 5th March 2011:
1 Virbac-Paprec 3 at 6454 miles to finish
2 Mapfre 205 miles from the leader
3 Renault Z.E at 1613 miles
4 Neutrogena at 1776 miles
5 Mirabaud at 1881 miles
6 Groupe Bel at 1886 miles
7 Estrella Damm Sailing Team at 2010 miles
8 Hugo Boss at 2423 miles
9 Gaes Centros Auditivos at 2719 miles
10 Forum Maritim Catala at 4699 miles
11 Central Lechera Asturiana at 5483 miles
12 We Are Water at 5363 miles
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