Barcelona World Race update.
From the pit lane to the slip lane… and into the fast lane. Having long left their pit stops behind, Foncia and Virbac Paprec 3 are not only accelerating out of the west Atlantic, but rapidly overtaking their way through the BWR.
Still in pole position, Estrella Damm lead the fleet south, having escaped from the light winds in the small hours of this morning. Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes (ESP) are no doubt getting accustomed to looking in the rear-view mirror. After a sustained period of compression in the windless zone, which saw the leaders parked solid as the chasing pack reduced their lead, to within 30 miles for second-placed Groupe Bel this morning, the Spaniards must now watch for Michel Desjoyeaux and Francois Gabart’s rise up the rankings.
Foncia this afternoon is second, placed fewer than 20 miles from the leader. In real terms the boats may be more than 500 miles apart, but Foncia and Virbac Paprec 3’s diversion to South America has seen them re-enter the race track with a clear lane, heading south-east at speed.
The ‘laughing cow’ team on Groupe Bel remain on Estrella Damm’s tail, and have in fact continued to gained ground in the newly re-established breeze, now in third place. Virbac Paprec 3 now lie in fourth place, one ahead of Mirabaud.
MAPFRE, who have taken a directly southerly line between the westerly duo and the main group, are currently in sixth place but at 18 knots is matching Virbac Paprec’s speed and just a shade under Foncia’s 18.7 knots during the past hour, sailing in similar north-easterlies.
The forecast low pressure system looks set to bring continued north-easterly pressure for the westerly boats, likely to build to a strong northerly which will see them sailing a little high en route to Gough Island. For the easterly boats more moderate easterly breezes are predicted, but the real trial will come as a large high pressure expands across the southern Atlantic, creating another parking lot and preventing access to the motorway of the deep south.
Adding to the headache for the skippers is the fact that the weather routing files are not yet conclusive – the only thing they seem to entirely agree on is that a South American pit stop turned out to be rather fortuitous .
Alex Pella (ESP) on Estrella Damm explained: 'This weather looks like it will continue for some time so we will have to study it very closely to decide our strategy, and if we should go further south or, conversely, to go east. This decision is getting a little more complicated. Grib models we are showing different options and so we have to make a decision as soon as possible of what is right.'
In order to avoid the hold up, the chasing boats are also experimenting with various routes to keep making gains to the south. GAES Centros Auditivos manoeuvred themselves further east in search of better breeze, and although they have overtaken Neutrogena into eighth, Renault Z.E. remain one place ahead in seventh. Hugo Boss, by contrast, has gone slightly to the west of the main group in their bid to continue to gain on the leaders.
Wouter Verbraak (NED) on Hugo Boss commented today: 'The next five days are looking pretty tricky, the St Helena high is pretty erratic in its movement so the weather models are not very much in line in what they think about the future. Short-term we are finally going into the transition that the other guys have been fighting for the last couple of days, and this afternoon we should be back in good winds so we’re looking forward to that.' Standings at Thursday 20 January at 1400hrs UTC
1 ESTRELLA DAMM Sailing Team at 20456 miles from the finish
2 FONCIA at 29 miles from the leader
3 GROUPE BEL at 23 miles
4 VIRBAC-PAPREC 3 at 75 miles
5 MIRABAUD at 105 miles
6 MAPFRE at 123 miles
7 RENAULT Z.E at 135 miles
8 GAES CENTROS AUDITIVOS at 148 miles
9 NEUTROGENA at 151 miles
10 CENTRAL LECHERA ASTURIANA at 277 miles
10 HUGO BOSS at 296 miles
12 WE ARE WATER at 316 miles
13 FORUM MARITIM CATALA at 436 miles