Reduced rations as Paprec-Virbac slows

At half an hour per tack the situation is getting more difficult now for the race leading crew on board Paprec-Virbac 2 as they are forced further and further north of Gibraltar. Skippers Jean-Pierre Dick and Damian Foxall are waiting for the wind to shift to allow them to tack towards the Mediterranean gate - Now on reduced rations as their food supplies become more and more meager by the day.

But the forecast shows they'll have upwind conditions the rest of the way, meaning the next few days will see them tacking up the coast, each tack requiring up to half an hour of hard manual labour as they shift the contents of the boat (sails, water ballast, navigation station) from side to side in an effort to balance the boat and keep it flat and fast.

And they'll have to do it on reduced rations as their food supplies become more and more meager by the day.

'Oh man, we're going to be tacking now after we finish this chat I reckon. This high pressure ridge is messing us around a bit. And it's going to be one of very many tacks between here and Barcelona because, guess what? It's on the wind all of the way!' said Damian, considering his fate.

'I was looking at my menu for the next few days. I'm still in the freeze-dried for now and I'm hoping it's going to get me through Gibraltar and maybe the Alboran Sea before I'm stuck with soup packets. I think it'll be alright. But it's going to be a very busy six days or so. We just have to keep the boat together, but our mates on Hugo Boss are going to come into us big time; they have a perfect situation, reaching up on the Southeasterly flow. But we're pretty close to the finish now, and they have to do all the upwind work as well, but they will get closer.'

Behind them, Hugo Boss is roaring along, closing the gap with each hour. When reached today, Andrew Cape said the black boat was making 22 knots, also heading north of the ideal route, but nevertheless cutting the corner on Paprec-Virbac 2 and gaining miles. The margin between the boats is again under 600 miles, and that will close dramatically over the next 48 hours or so.

'We're looking for a windshift, but at the moment we're sailing north of where we want to go so that we stay in the wind,' 'Capey' explained. 'It looks a bit ridiculous on a map, but that's what we have to do. They (Paprec-Virbac2) are going to have a pretty slow day today and tomorrow.the timing for us is a bit better so we're hoping to close it down quite a bit.'

The next 24 hours could also prove significant in the battle for third place as the trade winds give way to small pressure systems. The resulting instability could be an opportunity for either Temenos II or Mutua Madrileña to gain an advantage.

'Over the next 24 hours we're going to have a big windshift to the North. Temenos II will have it maybe seven hours before us,' Javier Sansó explained. 'When we get it we will tack and after that we have to deal with a weak low pressure system, it's very strange. it's very unstable conditions that give some wide open options. It will be the start of the big game.'

'If I was them, I would try to use this situation,' said Dominique Wavre, from 90 miles in front, on board Temenos II. 'We have some ideas and are going to do our best here.'

Behind the others, Educación sin Fronteras is enjoying stronger trade wind conditions, racing along at 14 knots.

Day 88 - February 6, 18:00 GMT - Position report with distance to leader

1 - Paprec Virbac 2 826nm to finish
2 - Hugo Boss + 558
3 - Temenos ll + 1516
4 - Mutua Madrileña + 1601
5 - Educación Sin Fronteras + 2955

RET Veolia Environnement + NA
RET Estrella Damm + NA
RET Delta Dore + NA

Quotes - Javier Sansó, Mutua Madrileña: 'Paprec Virbac 2 is going to be upwind in very strong conditions, and in fact we could similarly have 35 knots in the Strait of Gibraltar . with so much slamming around everything on the boat and its material is really at its limit, and mentally that is constantly on your mind.

We don't even want to think about anything going wrong now. It is so much worse than before. Right now is when you lose sleep worrying about a breakage. You want to try and be more conservative in your approach but you can't have three reefs and a stay sail in 30 knots because the boat just won't move - and it is worse if the boat goes slowly; you have to keep it moving, otherwise it suffers. The situation is really stressful.'