The low has been true to form and the men aboard Gitana 13 have experienced one of the most lively days so far on this their tenth day at sea.
They've had to deal with the most violent of winds, massive seas and impressive storms, racking up the miles no matter what was thrown at them; such was the setting off the coast of East Japan for Lionel Lemonchois and his ten crew. 174.60 miles from Yokohama at 1230 UT and boosted by a lead of over 948.1 miles on the reference time, they should conclude their North Pacific crossing during the course of the night (UT). In the meantime however, some difficult hours still lay ahead of the eleven sailors.
'It’s a bit full on!' We’ve had it all: gusts at over 58 knots, storms accompanied by lightning and heavy with rain. Right now the wind has calmed down a little and we've only got 25 knots. We're currently sailing under staysail with two reefs in the mainsail. We’re a little under-canvassed but the sea state is forcing us to sail in this configuration' explained Lionel Lemonchois yesterday evening prior to 2300 hours. Indeed, with average waves of 8 metres, reaching as high as 10 metres at times, the handling of the 33 metres maxi-catamaran has been acrobatic to say the least:
'We’re surfing at 30 knots with virtually nothing aloft. It’s impressive and above all very demanding for the helmsmen. The past few hours have been stressful for everyone.' In these conditions, it is difficult, even impossible to get any sleep. Despite all this, the crew has remained in watch configuration; although given the vast amount of trimming to be done, the crew normally on standby were on deck with those on watch.
Benefiting from their proximity to the depression centre, synonymous with light winds, the crew of Gitana 13 performed another gybe last night. Since then, the maxi-catamaran has switched to a heading of 290°to extract itself from the centre and hunt down the surrounding low. 'They’re going to accompany the wind rotation, which will back from the south-east to the east and then the north-east, prior to fixing themselves in the north within the system. The seas won’t be so big but they will be shorter. Indeed, it is in this zone that the Kuro-Shivo reigns – a SE'ly current equivalent to the Gulf Stream along the East American seaboard' detailed Sylvain Mondon from Météo France.
'We are on the home straight and there’s no way we can rush things. We making headway with care, trying to prevent too much pressure on the gear as much as we can' detailed the skipper of Gitana 13, remaining loyal to his philosophy.
Positioned 174.6 miles from the finish at 1230 UT, the maxi-catamaran in the colours of LCF Rothschild Group is expected into Yokohama during the course of the night this Wednesday (UT). However, for Lionel Lemonchois and his ten crew, everything will depend on the negotiation of the final miles prior to Cape Nojima, which marks the entrance into Tokyo Bay. A 30 mile beat will then be the order of the day in order to make the finish line, situated at the far end of the bay off Yokohama (between the lighthouse at the entrance to Hakkeijima Marina and the white lighthouse to the south of the passage towards Hakkeijama, as stipulated in the WSSRC texts). Onboard comments - Let’s talk records
This Pacific crossing will end with an objective reached: that of considerably improving on the current record time. Of course, the time we’re going to set will be broken someday, but it certainly won’t be easy. It is worth pointing out that this crossing cannot be sailed along the great circle route, that is the shortest distance between San Francisco and Yokohama (4,482 miles).
Due to the roundness of the earth, this theoretical route would shave the Aleutians, a string of islands which separate the Pacific from the Bering Sea. These islands, which bar access to the north, save via some narrow channels, prevent boats getting to the right side of the lows (via the north). An added hazard of passing through this remote zone is the possible icebergs and growlers. All this is a far cry from an Atlantic record attempt, where the latest victorious attempts have followed very similar routes, to within a handful of miles of the theoretical (direct) route.
The challenge therefore is to adopt a route which is ‘meteorologically' achievable, whilst trying to cover the least number of miles possible. With what is always a precious collaboration with Sylvain Mondon, this is what we’ve undertaken. The challenge is complicated given the immensity of this ocean. Although just a single weather system is in play on an Atlantic crossing, here it's a very different picture. We've had to negotiate two lows: one at the start, the other at the finish. Between the two there were no less than three zones of high pressure which we had to deal with, with 'crazy' passages thrown in each time we slipped from one to the other. A huge amount of parameters come into play and the smooth running of the operation can falter at the slightest snag.
As regards distance, we’ll have actually covered 5,633 miles, a figure which takes into account the 100 miles still separating us from the finish at the moment where I write these lines (1700 UT). As a result we’ll have covered 1,152 miles more than on the theoretical (direct) route. Our actual average speed will then be around 21.33 knots along the ground. If these figures don't appear on the WSSRC texts, it is they that will be closely examined by the future pretenders to the record.
As for life aboard, it will be said that we did the essentials, namely eating, sleeping (when that was possible) and being on deck. There wasn't a lot of embellishment in our schedule, Gitana 13 leaving us speechless with its capacity to take a pounding. Not a single piece of damage suffice to say. Even though we were never over the limit, quite the contrary in fact with a fine safety margin at times, Captain Lionel certainly imposed a fast pace. He lets nothing pass him by. Sailing alongside him, you immediately understand why he left all his adversaries in his wake in the Route du Rhum 2006.
See you soon
Nicolas Raynaud http://www.gitana-team.com/