Six days into the IMOCA Ocean Masters New York to Barcelona Race and the four boats are now approaching the half way stage of their Atlantic crossing. Despite this, and the numerous hurdles they have had to jump to reach this stage, the fleet has compressed dramatically, with just 25 miles separating race leader Safran from GAES Centros Auditivos this morning, as they hurtle downwind under spinnaker in 20+ knots.
Since leaving the icebox behind them yesterday, the fleet has divided in two. Race leader, Marc Guillemot and Morgan Lagravière’s Safran, followed by Pepe Ribes and Ryan Breymaier on Hugo Boss, have led the charge south, while Team Neutrogena and GAES Centros Auditivos took a more northerly option, which has clearly paid: When the two pairs of boats converged early this morning, they have cut their deficit on the leaders by two thirds over the last 24 hours.
Despite this, Neutrogena skipper Guillermo Altadill felt they could have done better. 'We gained quite a lot, but I thought at least we might have crossed Hugo Boss. Perhaps we should have gone further north? At present Hugo Boss is 6.5 miles downwind - they were four miles away, but we got stuck in a cloud and slowed down.'
Sailing his first IMOCA race, Safran co-skipper Morgan Lagravière was impressed by the intensity of the racing. 'I am very surprised the boats are so close. It is very exciting. I wasn’t sure of the level before the start because I didn’t know the other sailors and in fact I didn't even know how I would be given this is my first IMOCA race. Fortunately, we’ve been leading since the start and we feel that we are fast. But it is a very close race and that I really enjoy.'
Despite their lead diminishing, the French former Olympic 49er and Figaro sailor was still feeling confident: 'Those making in-roads on us from behind – that is more because of the weather than any lacking on our part. So we are not worried,' he said. 'We can't talk about controlling the other boats, because we aren’t even at the half way stage of this race. To beat the others at the moment, first you must sail your own race.'
From on board Hugo Boss, co-skipper Ryan Breymaier said he was not overly surprised that the race was so close between the four boats after six days of racing. 'When you look at the competition, you can’t get away from anyone. That seems pretty normal unfortunately.'While Hugo Boss remains in good shape and is the newest generation IMOCA 60 in the race, Breymaier admitted that he and Spanish round the world veteran Pepe Ribes, lack time in the boat, compared to Marc Guillemot, who has been racing Safran continually since she was launched in 2007 and knows how to get the most from her in all conditions.
'Safran is very good at sailing very, very deep in certain conditions, whereas we are learning the boat much more compared to them. We are struggling to be quicker, so that limits your tactical opportunities.'
While the boats are still making good progress, sailing downwind under spinnaker, the crews must remain vigilant as squalls pass through, dumping rain on them, causing large wind shifts and the wind to gust or suddenly drop.
While yesterday the routing for the boats was indicating that they would make a straightforward transition in northwesterly winds from those generated by the high they are currently to the north of, into those of the depression centred to the west of Ireland, this is now not looking so clear.
A trough – an elongated area of low pressure, with light winds in its centre – is now blocking their path.But Neutrogena’s Guillermo Altadill felt this would offer some opportunities: 'It’s a wide area offering several options, depending upon how far north or south you go. We plan to take a more risky option, because what we can't do is stay with Safran and Hugo Boss, because they are faster. We have to take some risks if we want to beat them.'
The forecast has this trough moving over the Azores this weekend, possibly providing tactical options to pass north or south of this mid-Atlantic island group. However the boats are expected to gybe back to the north leaving the Azores to starboard, in order to get into the strong winds and better wind angles offered by the depression to the north.
'I guess all of the fleet will do the same,' anticipated Anna Corbella. 'The question is - how much to the north will they pass? That is not very clear.'
IMOCA Ocean Masters New York to Barcelona Race village - Christophe Favreau/OSM
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