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Battle of the Marmara Sea - Cap Istanbul

by Kate Jennings - Expression on 8 Oct 2008
dockside - European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul Jacques Vapillon ©
After a west to east Trans-Mediterranean and 1,550 miles in its wake, the 'European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul' is gradually drawing to a close. The grand finale promises to be as intense as it is rich in surprises and upsets. After passing through the Dardanelles Strait, and the ‘high point’ of the 1914-1918 war, the solo sailors will take the start of the final leg from Gallipoli to Istanbul. This ultimate 110 mile apotheosis will reveal the name of the outright winner of the event on the far shores of the Marmara Sea.

Doubtless the victor will have earned this title, alone in tackling all the obstacles and hazards of the Grande Bleue at the helm of a one design bound for the enchanting city of Istanbul…

Soon the fleet will be enjoying the waters of the Bosphorus, the golden crescent, the minarets and the domes of Istanbul, a city which is the symbolic bridge between the east and west. The solo sailors’ voyage is drawing to a close and the final outcome is fast approaching ahead of the bows of the Figaro Bénéteaus, on a stopover in the small island of Bozcaada. Sailing through the Dardanelles Strait is prohibited so it’s at Gallipoli, after a 60 mile delivery under motor that the start of this final leg will be given. The Marmara Sea will certainly require the sailors to be on their toes, with all their wits about them, as much to anticipate the final weather traps as appreciate the technicoloured landscape. These will be the Justices of the Peace in this 2008 edition of the Cap Istanbul. For now some wind is expected and should enable the fleet to make it into the Bosphorus on Thursday morning.

On these waters between the European and Asian Thrace, the 27 solo sailors will be keen to do battle with all guns blazing. 'This last leg is scheduled to cover a hundred miles or so, during which we’ll have to give it our all in a bid to get a good result', announces Armel Tripon (Gedimat). As for all those who are vying for medals: the five skippers on Nicolas Bérenger’s (Koné Elevators) tail, will be playing all their cards for the podium, as tactical coups will be par for the course now and there certainly won’t be any holds barred in the final sprint. Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert), François Gabart (Espoir Région Bretagne), Gildas Mahé (Le Comptoir Immobilier), Marc Emig (Capitol) as well as Thierry Chabagny (Suzuki Automobiles) are within just 70 minutes of each other. Heaven knows that in these oriental latitudes, anything is possible. Complete upheaval and attack fill the air adding a real frisson to the context of this ultimate leg. The three closest pursuers behind the frontrunner are themselves within just 30 minutes of each other. In their battle for the podium they’ll naturally be eager to play at musical chairs to the sounds of the muezzins’ call to prayer.

As for Nicolas Bérenger, boosted by his 51 minute and 03 second lead over Gildas Morvan, he has never been so close to conquering Istanbul. The city is clearly calling to him now and to reach Istanbul would be the epitome of everything he has striven towards in a course which has been ‘Byzantine’ in every respect. Just a 110 mile sprint across the Marmara Sea stands between this familiar leader of the pack and the spicy taste of victory. In Bozcaada, despite the obvious pressure, he declares himself to be confident but he does make a gentle mockery of the situation: 'It is customary to say that when you have a half hour lead, you’re protected'. It remains that at the gateway to the Bosphorus, a new wind is blowing across the foundations of ocean racing. Coveted for centuries, Istanbul remains a cherished destination…

Quotes from the Boats:

Jean-Charles Monnet, skipper of Degrémont-Suez Environnement: 'Source de Talents': 'The course of the 5th leg is simple, without any particular hurdles, and according to the first weather estimates it’ll be a fast leg. I don’t think this high speed dash will upset the general ranking but we’re going to remain prudent and do our best to win it! The Mediterranean hasn’t been particularly kind to me since the start but my perseverance in trying my best remains intact.'

François Gabart (Espoir Région Bretagne): 'It’ll be a short 110 mile course. According to the latest information, it looks like calm conditions (light wind) are on the horizon. It may be very tricky. As a result I raced the fourth leg like it was the last, giving it my all to conserve a good place in the general ranking.'

Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert): 'Even though I’m getting closer to the head of the race, I’m not going to amuse myself by going on the attack on a solo option. It would appear that in the Mamara Sea the conditions are particularly shifty, and I won’t be tempting fate by going for victory at all costs. This is especially true given that Nicolas Bérenger has sailed well up to here and has put in a steady performance. My primary objective is to the win the French Championship title: it would reward a season where I’ve finished all the races on the podium…'

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