Overnight there were some heart-stopping moments for the IMOCA Ocean Masters New York to Barcelona Race’s long term frontrunner, Safran, as her hard fought lead evaporated over a matter of hours.
Since leaving the Azores in her wake, the French IMOCA 60 had extended her position to more than 80 miles ahead of second placed Hugo Boss. But over the course of yesterday, Safran experienced the wind getting lighter and lighter. In turn her boat speed gradually dropped and by 02:30 UTC this morning had dipped below five knots. At this point Hugo Boss had closed to within just 15 miles of her, with third placed Neutrogena just one more mile behind.
Sadly for the crew chasing down Safran, this happy scenario was not to last. The French IMOCA 60 was first to escape the light winds and over the course of this morning, as those behind have been wallowing, her speed has built and built.
At 10:30 UTC Safran was lying 90 miles due set of Cape St Vincent (southwest Portugal) and was charging along at an average speed of 17 knots, compared to 9.9, 7.5 and 5.1 for Hugo Boss, Team Neutrogena and GAES respectively. And for the last two even these speeds were fast – over the previous four hours they had only averaged 4.1 knots! In turn Safran’s lead over Hugo Boss was back up to 56 miles and it seems very likely that her advantage over Pepe Ribes and Ryan Breymaier’s IMOCA 60 later today will increase to more than the 80 miles it was two days ago.
The closest fight by far between the four boats has been between the two IMOCA 60s, Hugo Boss and Neutrogena. Sailing their four year older boat Neutrogena, Guillermo Altadill and his Chilean co-skipper José Muñoz have been doggedly gunning for their team mates on Hugo Boss, Pepe Ribes and American Ryan Breymaier. 'Hugo Boss is faster than Neutrogena,' recounted Altadill. 'We were trying to keep up with them by playing every wind shift and gust to keep our boat speeds similar.'
This was proving effective: At one point yesterday evening Neutrogena had closed in to within 300m of their rivals. 'We could see the faces of Pepe and Ryan when we shone a spot light on them!' continued Altadill.
Hugo Boss has been hampered by her crew still ‘learning’ this complex boat plus a few breakages including the top of their mast track. This they were hoping to fix over the last day in the light conditions. Despite this, their match race with Neutrogena has come to an end. Both boats tacked east at 05:40 UTC and since then in Hugo Boss has managed to pull away and is now 13 miles ahead.
This morning the crew on GAES was feeling the most pain, as their yacht was utterly becalmed, 100 miles behind the race leader. Worse the wind, when a breath of it did occasionally pass through, was still from the south, indicating that they were only just entering the light patch. 'We’ve stopped again,' reported Anna Corbella. 'It’s infuriating - we are trying to sail east, but there’s nothing we can do. We were expecting to get closer to the fleet, but this wind isn’t helping us.'
Now out into the building northerly winds off the Portugal’s west coast, Safran must past Cape St Vincent and then sail a further 180 miles on to Gibraltar. During this time the wind will shift into the northeast and then the east coinciding with their passage through the Strait of Gibraltar.
Safran's ETA at the Strait will be around midday tomorrow (Thursday 11th June) but passing through looks set to be a highly unpleasant ride – both upwind and with the wind against the tide, causing a lumpy unpredictable sea, that our Spanish colleague and expert describes as being like ‘boiling soup’. Back marker GAES is expected off Gibraltar around 12 hours later. Ocean Masters