Three weeks since they set off, the Barcelona World Race fleet has taken a new shape. Yesterday evening Foncia surged into first place, and this morning Virbac Paprec 3 joined them at the head of the race in second place.
Together the pair, which each stopped in Recife, Brazil have maintained a samba pace since leaving the South American coast. Today they have been enjoying a fast ride on their journey back from the western frontiers of the course, both averaging over 20 knots of boat speed in solid northerlies. In the past 24 hours the French duo covered over 400 miles – on average 150 miles more than the boats on the east of the course.
Michel Desjoyeaux and François Gabart (FRA) were first to reclaim their place at the front of the leaderboard, arriving in first place yesterday evening ahead of Estrella Damm, who had led the fleet for the previous six days. Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes (ESP) exited the light winds zone yesterday, but in moderate easterly breezes their speed has leveled out at around 11 knots. This has allowed the other western rebels on Virbac Paprec 3, riding ahead of the same low pressure system as Foncia, through into second place overall this morning.
In fourth place Kito de Pavant and Sebastien Audigane (FRA) on Groupe Bel have stuck close to Estrella Damm. However, the next potential threat to the status quo could come from MAPFRE, who also struck out on an independent course and are currently the most westerly boat on the track in fifth.
Some 200 miles further north than Virbac Paprec 3, the 49er pairing of Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez (ESP) don’t have quite the same white-knuckle conditions as the new leaders, but at the edge of the low pressure system they are still making 16 knots average speed and may well be able to maintain this momentum into third place.
Although the low pressure system seems to be moving more rapidly south-east than previously predicted, if the westerly boats are able to stay ahead of the front their advantage will continue to extend to Gough Island, with the first boat likely to reach this remote Atlantic waypoint on Sunday. Meanwhile, with two high pressure zones set to merge across the southern Atlantic over the next two days, the boats on the easterly side of the track will need to find a route south if they are to remain in contention.
As Michel Desjoyeaux (FRA) explained: 'We are sailing with two digits of boatspeed and the first digit is a ‘two’ so it’s good news, but on board it is a little shaky. Fortunately we’re under the coach roof so we can be protected. With the weather that is set to arrive it’s better to be in front because you have more options.'
Seventh-placed Renault Z.E. and Neutrogena in eighth have pulled away from GAES Centros Auditivos over the course of the day by maintaining a steady 11-12 knots. Meanwhile Dee Caffari (GBR) and Anna Corbella (ESP) on GAES Centros Auditivos have once again been lassoed by a light winds zone, with their average speed dropping to under 5 knots this afternoon.
Hugo Boss is now in fact more southerly than GAES, but at just over 100 miles further west is still ranked one place behind them in 10th. Behind them Central Lechera Asturiana and We Are Water have each held their easterly line, with Forum Maritim Catala in 13th, now some 630 miles behind the first boat.
There was news too of the 14th boat to start the race, as Bruno Garcia (ESP) and Jean Le Cam (FRA) of the dismasted Président paid a visit to Barcelona World RACE headquarters and spoke to some of the competing skippers in this morning’s live video conference. Standings at Friday 21 January at 1400hrs UTC
1 FONCIA at 20057 miles from the finish
2 VIRBAC-PAPREC 3 at 49 miles from the leader
3 ESTRELLA DAMM at 130 miles
4 GROUPE BEL at 164 miles
5 MAPFRE at 198 miles
6 MIRABAUD at 234 miles
7 RENAULT Z.E. at 283 miles
8 NEUTROGENA at 296 miles
9 GAES CENTROS AUDITIVOS at 350 miles
10 HUGO BOSS at 430 miles
11 CENTRAL LECHERA ASTURIANA at 451 miles
12 WE ARE WATER at 499 miles
13 FORUM MARITIM CATALA at 633 miles