After an already epic journey in some of the world's harshest waters Barcelona World Race leaders Paprec Virbac 2 are finally back into the Mediterranean and their last 400 miles to Barcelona. Yet by no means is the battle over for Jean Pierre Dick and Damian Foxall, who passed Scoring Gate 8 in the Strait of Gibraltar at 18.39 GMT last night (with elapsed time of 14 Days 22Hours and 14 seconds from Fernando de Noronha.)
The Franco-Irish tandem is currently sailing in the Alboran Sea, close to Malaga, with easterly winds still gusting at 35 knots.
'We have had to change down to a storm jib for the first time in the race,' Jean Pierre told us this morning, 'the sea is completely white. It is actually quite beautiful but stressful on both us and the boat! We are well aware that the mast and the keel are 'tired' now, so we're a little concerned.'
Very tough sailing conditions have meant a long and very physical approach to the Strait as the race leaders were forced to tack along the coast and shelter from busy traffic lanes and big seas.
'At Gibraltar we passed alongside an enormous CGM cargo ship; we cant let our guard down at any moment,' said the French skipper, 'the big question we have to face now is which side we are going to pass Ibiza because there is not going to be a lot of wind.'
Currently the Estimated Time of Arrival for Paprec Virbac 2 is still Monday afternoon 11th February. However as Skipper Jean Pierre Dick explained,
'It could quite probably be the 12th if we come across an area of calm.'
Hugo Boss remains 373 miles behind, and after making some amazing gains on the leader in the last couple of days they will now have to face similarly challenging upwind conditions.
Currently making their way south east down the Portuguese coast, Alex Thomson and Andrew Cape are 250 miles from Gibraltar at the 1200 GMT position report. Their ETA for the Strait scoring gate is late afternoon Sunday 10th February, and for Barcelona Wednesday 13th February at midday.
Behind the leaders, the battle for the podium continues between Mutua Madrileña and Temenos II; the Spanish team is now 193 miles behind, and making slower progress than their Swiss-French rivals.
But skipper Javier 'Bubi' Sansó is optimistic:
'We still have firing power! In this race we have seen that 200 miles can be made up in just one or two days - there is a lot of race left and we still have our chances.'
At the back of the fleet, Educación sin Fronteras passed Scoring Gate 7 at Fernando de Noronha last night at 18.54 GMT (elapsed time of 17 days 3 hours and 59 minutes from Cape Horn.)
Albert Bargues admits that the thought of home is increasingly enticing:
'We are under 3000 miles away! Cape Horn and the Atlantic were psychologically really important, but once we get past Gibraltar we will be on a home stretch and the hardest part will be over.' Day 91 - February 9 12:00 GMT - Position report with distance to leader
1. PAPREC-VIRBAC 2 - Jean Pierre DICK / Damian FOXALL - 389 to finish
2. HUGO BOSS - Alex THOMSON / Andrew CAPE - 373
3. TEMENOS 2 - Dominique Wavre / Michele PARET- 1352
4. MUTUA MADRILENA - Javier SANSO / Pachi RIVERO - 1545
5. EDUCACION SIN FRONTERAS - Servane ESCOFFIER / Albert BARGUES - 2745
Abandoned - VEOLIA ENVIRONNEMENT - Roland JOURDAIN / Jean Luc NELIAS
Abandoned - ESTRELLA DAMM - Guillermo ALTADILL / JONATHAN MCKEE
Abandoned - DELTA DORE - Jérémie BEYOU / Sidney GAVIGNET
Abandoned - PRB - Vincent Riou / Sebastien JOSSE Quotes - Michele Paret, Temenos II,
with mixed feelings about the finish: 'It is amazing when you are at sea, you live closer to nature, and forget all the elements that can trouble your perception of life, and in some ways it is actually quite difficult to go back home. We have mixed feelings, because on the one hand we're happy to see our families again, but it has been such a great adventure that we don't actually want it to end. In fact the most difficult part of the race is crossing the finishing line; it isn't a 100% happy moment.'