After the delays for gale force winds the fleet were finally able to start at 16:00 hours Saturday on leg four of the 'European Capital of Culture - Cap Istanbul' and make headway north towards Bozcaada.
In the stiff tempo of a WSW breeze of 20 to 30 knots, they slip along in the surf, swallowing up the Mediterranean swell. On the racetrack, Erwan Tabarly (Athema) proudly sports the yellow vest. He leads the front pack in a high speed chase through some idyllic land and seascapes.
Sunday, the fleet made their entrance into the Cyclades! It’s a magical time on the water with the wind propelling the one-designs, which are slipping along at speed towards the north. The sun pierces through the night and the cloud mass, aiming its orangey pink light over this legendary archipelago, suddenly revealing its landforms.
At this morning’s radio session, the voices are clear and reminiscent of how much the skippers are relishing the favourable conditions as they find themselves amidst the islands and islets dotted about the course. Last night, the SSW wind kicked up to 32 knots at most.
At the head of the fleet, Erwan Tabarly (Athema) is leading the way between Karos and Amorgos, the latter famous for its starring role in the classic film ‘Le Grand Bleu’. Gildas Mahé (Le Comptoir Immobilier) is hot on his heels. Positioned on a direct course, the incredibly bunched fleet is heading due north. There is little distance between them, just 10 miles separating the frontrunner from the back of the fleet.
A few hours later, the SW air flow intensifies. 32, 36 . . . 38 knots. Off Naxos, Thierry Chabagny (Suzuki Automobiles) as well as Adrien Hardy (Agir Recouvrement) are holding firmly onto their helms in some perilous conditions, the one designs screaming along at 10-12 knots. The time is ripe for broaches and wipeouts, potential damage just around the corner.
Out front the ten leaders, at the top of their game, are still bunched together within a mere handful of miles and a handful of islands. These moments are as intense as they are fleeting with the passage of the front. Adrenalin fills the air. The star performers in the breeze deserve admiration as they power through the lumpy waters in a bid to gain precious metres on route towards Bozcaada.
This acrobatic navigation doesn’t last fortunately. For once the weather scenario is in line with the forecasts. The skies clear and reveal the intense blue of these waters which have lived up to their reputation. The wind heads, the spinnakers are slipped back into their bags and the 27 solo sailors continue their climb northwards in reaching conditions.
At the front, Erwan Tabarly, Gildas Mahé, Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert), Marc Emig (Capitol) as well as François Gabart (Espoir Région Bretagne) are driving at full pelt. The wind has dropped to a 20 knot Westerly. The race for pole position is on! As for the leader in the general ranking, Nicolas Bérenger (Koné Elevators), he certainly hasn’t dropped his guard. He is positioned in 7th, just a stone’s throw away from the head of the fleet.
It isn’t a question of attacking or controlling. It’s all about making as much speed along the racetrack as possible. At the start of the afternoon, the fleet had already left the Cyclades in its wake. They’re now heading north towards Kyos, a large island along the latitude of Izmir. The fleet are expected into Bozcaada over the course of the night after a memorable express sprint against the clock.