For the Vendée Globe, weather forecasts look promising for the 20 solo skippers who start the seventh edition of the 28,050 mile solo non-stop around the world race tomorrow, Saturday at 1302hrs (French time, 1202hrs UTC). The final hours before the start are never, ever easy to deal with.
As the final weather forecasts unite to give a clear picture of the first 24-36 hours at sea often it is the sheer malice of the Bay of Biscay in November which preys on the minds of the skippers. This time it seems like the skippers will be blessed with a relatively benign, fast passage across Biscay in a breeze which will make southwards miles increasingly easy. But there are two key traps – one possibly at the start – and one off Cape Finisterre which might precipitate a ‘rich get richer’ scenario.
The pressure this time is not so much contemplating potential early damage to boat or skipper, but early damage to race prospects.
A fast, clean start will be essential and there will be a definite need to be up among the ‘peloton’ the leading group through the first 48 hours or more or else it might be a long time before lost miles can be regained.
When the skippers met for their final official briefing today it was clear that small tensions were simmering. Gone was the bonhomie and humour of Wednesday’s press conference and in its place the sharp focus on the small details on what might go wrong as the fleet start leaving the dock Saturday, led by Bernard Stamm’s Cheminées Poujoulat at 09.30hrs, filing out through that huge wave of human emotion which is the legendary channel exit. They salute the farewells from the hundreds of thousands of passionate supporters who perch on every single vantage point in the narrow channel, but practical concerns were aired strongly at the briefing. Top of the agenda was the real prospect of the skippers wanting to tack early, to make a hitch to the west deal with the possible arrival of a weather front would offer a more favourable course angle offshore.
The crowds start assembling from as early as 0500hrs in the morning, booking the best . But some skippers will likely be awake before them.
'You always try to get a maximum amount of sleep on that last night but you never really do. Your mind is always racing with different things, mulling over what is going to happen the next day, the start. Ideally you get a good night’s sleep, but that never seems to be the case.' Confirms Mike Golding who will be making his fourth Vendée Globe start.
Start day is one of high emotion. The rookies might find it hard, but those who have lived it before know to keep their feelings in check. Jean-Pierre Dick, one of the French pre-race favourites talks of his ‘Terminator’ frame of mind, staying cool through the day and focusing only on the start an initial strategy.
'Start day is not my favourite part of the race.' Briton Sam Davies asserts, 'I will be really be happy when it gets dark and I can’t see anyone any more. It is part of the race, great for all the sponsors, supporters. It is not so much of an emotional rollercoaster, because you just cannot let it be that. Mentally we have to deal with it.'
'From early morning the skippers will have been up getting the most recent weather information. The previous night they will have spent time with those nearest and dearest to them, making sure they are with the right people, sharing time with them because the time on the pontoon is never easy and not the time to be saying goodbyes. You never really sleep because you are nervous. Then on the day you want to be as detached as possible making sure your head is in the right place. It is a big moment for the team but you tend to spend your last time with them on the boat before the start, but really you have your head in the sail plan and the weather files, you need to be focused. And the first night at sea is difficult with the possibility of fishing boats and traffic around so you need to be vigilant as well as sail fast.' Explains Dee Caffari, the British solo skipper who raced in the last edition.
The weather forecast promises a relatively easy start, some 15-18knots of wind, but the key question is the timing of a front which might pass over the fleet before, during or just after the start. That front will bring a shift in wind direction from SW to W and NW prefaced by some squalls and showers. If the front is late there is the potential to be pressed to the south early, towards the corner of the Bay of Biscay, or the alternative is to hitch west early to find the shift earlier and be able to sail a better angle towards the corner – Cape Finisterre.
Thereafter it should be a lifting breeze, that is one which allows the skippers to sail a progressively faster reaching angle as the wind veers.
At or around Cape Finisterre, the NW corner of the Iberian peninsula, there is likely to be a high pressure ridge which extends off the Azores high pressure system. This light winds hurdle will be easier for those who get there first, before it becomes wider. And beyond it, there is the promise if fast sailing down into the Portuguese tradewinds. So there looks to be a considerable benefit to be among the leading group.
The forecast is much better than last time, kinder to the boats. But I think the spectators might have a hard time. It is just a bit complicated for the start. I am not sure what time the front will go through. If the front is a little bit late that means the wind will be SW and not W NW so that would have us heading due south which we don’t want to do or we will have to tack. There is strategy to start with and part of that strategy will be whether you are brave enough to tack into a spectator fleet which probably has no idea you are going to tack.
If you don’t tack early then you can lose five miles immediately on your competitors. And if I do that I don’t think I will be stacked on to port, but it might be well worth taking that early hitch while the front is going through.
Then there is a ridge, and the question is where that ridge is going to be. Savéol is not the fastest of the fleet, and so that has always been something I worry about, a rich get richer scenario. And so I have been running lots of routings at different percentages of the polar performance to see if I makes a big difference going really fast or not, and I think it is a scenario where, maybe just to start with, but I think everyone will stop a little. We have to get through the ridge and I don’t think anyone will escape it.
Generally it is nice because it is not really strong, not boat breaking to start with. And physically I think it will break us in gently.
Start day is not my favourite part of the race. I will be really happy when it gets dark and I can’t see anyone any more. It is part of the race, great for all the sponsors, supporters. It is not so much of an emotional rollercoaster, because you just cannot let it be that. Mentally we have to deal with it.”
Sam Davies, GBR, Savéol
I will have a last lunch with my friends on the beach and then get on to the boat and into my bags and see what I have got and what I will use in the first part of the race. It is going to be a lot of emotion as I go up the channel and see all the crowd and my sponsors, guests and all my family. It will be quite intense for a time and then to suddenly be all alone.
Tanguy de Lamotte, FRA, Initiatives-Coeur
We are waiting for a NW’ly wind maybe before the front it will be a bit more W’ly. The question is the timing of the front and the position of the starting line. But in the morning the weather forecast will be more precise and there are the observations from the water. I think we will have all the information we will need. But there might be the problem with the spectator boats if we are on port tack. We have to be careful.
You have to stay calm. You have to try and share the moments with your family and sponsors but all the time there is focus on how you will start the race. It is quite difficult, but if you have lived it before then it is a little easier.
You have to be good during the first night. You don’t really have to be first but you need to be in the top group. Maybe you can get to be south of the ridge earlier than others, but the guys to the west or north west of you can better than you. What is important is to sail fast on the first night, and then on the first morning to get the new information.”
Jérémie Beyou, Maitre CoQ
Vendee Globe website
by Vendee Globe
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9:08 PM Fri 9 Nov 2012GMT
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2012 Vendee Globe
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