Home is in sight this Sunday for the leading crew of the Barcelona World Race as Paprec-Virbac 2 prepares for what could be their last night at sea. The finishing line is less than 300 miles away, weather conditions are moderating, and their closest opposition is still in the Atlantic Ocean, 304 miles behind. Victory is nearly close enough to taste!
Jean-Pierre and Damian with their national flags for the France/Ireland rugby game! ©Paprec-Virbac 2 - Barcelona World Race
'I can't wait to drink something sparkling in Barcelona,' said skipper Jean-Pierre Dick on Sunday. 'We're about to tack, and depending on how the wind shifts, this could be the last one!'
It's been a difficult few days for the race leader. Jean-Pierre and co-skipper Damian Foxall have seen their lead diminish dramatically earlier in the week. More worrisome has been the weather - the approach to Gibraltar was in true boat-breaking conditions with 40 knots headwinds, and steep choppy seas. And of course there is heavy commercial shipping traffic in the area. To add the final insult, the pair is running out of food, making do with the dregs of their three-month supply. It hasn't been a pleasant week.
'We have 38 to 42 knots of wind, a cargo ship 300 metres away and big waves. The boat is really slamming. It's quite dangerous,' was the brief description of conditions on Friday from a noticeably tense Jean-Pierre.
Behind the leading boat, Hugo Boss is now facing the same horrible conditions on the approach to Gibraltar. Winds are in excess of 35 knots and the wave conditions are truly heinous. Not too surprisingly, it hasn't been easy to make contact with them over the past few days.
But on Friday, skipper Alex Thomson had an idea of what lay ahead: 'It's going to be upwind all the way to Gibraltar really and with increasing breeze as we get there. It could be pretty nasty as the wind funnels through the Strait.'
Hugo Boss should cross into the Mediterranean near midnight tonight. The team has gained nearly 250 miles again this week, but it appears as if it will be a case of too little, too late, in terms of catching up to Paprec-Virbac 2.
Further south in the Atlantic Ocean, it has been a fantastic week for Temenos II, who used a few hours of instability in the trade winds to leverage a nice gain on Mutua Madrileña. It was the Spanish crew who thought they might have an opportunity in the unusual conditions and opted to sail further to the west. But the decision backfired, and Temenos II has stretched to nearly 250 miles clear of their Spanish pursuers, but caution is still the buzzword on the third placed boat.
'The battle with Mutua Madrileña is still on, even if it is a little bit less intense because they won't be able to try another option before Gibraltar,' explained Michèle Paret from Temenos II this morning. 'So now we are in a much better and more comfortable situation. However, we are still being careful, it is never over before the finish line, you never know what could happen in the Mediterranean Sea, this is why we are still trying to gain miles.'
This weekend has marked a big milestone for Educación sin Fronteras as well. The fifth place boat crossed into the equator, returning to the Northern hemisphere just after midnight, in the wee hours of this morning. The finishing line is now less than 3000 miles away, and skipper Albert Bargués is projecting a rough ETA of the 26th of February.
'After more than two months in the Southern hemisphere, we feel like we're really closer to home now,' he said, referring to the equator crossing. 'We're still in the doldrums, but we should pick up the trade winds again in about 24 hours.'
Paprec-Virbac 2 is expected to finish early in the evening tomorrow (Monday), with Hugo Boss due at Gibraltar at midnight tonight and in Barcelona on Wednesday. Temenos II is forecast to reach Gibraltar late on the 14th.
Day 92 - February 10, 14:00 GMT - Position report with distance to leader
1. PAPREC-VIRBAC 2 - Jean Pierre DICK / Damian FOXALL - 289 to finish
2. HUGO BOSS - Alex THOMSON / Andrew CAPE - 304
3. TEMENOS 2 - Dominique Wavre / Michele PARET- 1152
4. MUTUA MADRILENA - Javier SANSO / Pachi RIVERO - 1390
5. EDUCACION SIN FRONTERAS - Servane ESCOFFIER / Albert BARGUES - 2678
Abandoned - VEOLIA ENVIRONNEMENT - Roland JOURDAIN / Jean Luc NELIAS
Abandoned - ESTRELLA DAMM - Guillermo ALTADILL / JONATHAN MCKEE
Abandoned - DELTA DORE - Jérémie BEYOU / Sidney GAVIGNET
Abandoned - PRB - Vincent Riou / Sebastien JOSSE
Quotes - Jean-Pierre Dick, Paprec-Virbac 2: 'At the latitude of Cabo Frio, we broke our Solent forestay, we almost lost the mast! Fortunately, the staysail stay was in place, but the furling drum of the Solent was flying around on the foredeck and that was very dangerous. We managed to bear away, and Damian took risks going on the foredeck. We ended up using the genoa furling drum and working on a lashing to secure the forestay, but it has been really worrying. At some point, I began thinking it was over for us.'