Barcelona World Race leader Virbac-Paprec 3 this afternoon look very much like they should make it to the Crozet ice gate just on time, sneaking ahead of the depression which has been threatening them for the last few days, the podium challenge of Kito de Pavant and Sébastien Audigane Groupe Bel to Spain’s Estrella Damm appears to be increasing by the hour.
The duel in the Indian Ocean between the ‘Red Cow Boys’ – De Pavant and Audigane - on the VPLP Verdier designed Groupe Bel which is also known as ‘Cochise’ (ed note as in Cow Cheese!), and Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes, who signs his communications as ‘Jack Sparrow’ on the Red Pearl which is better known as the Farr designed Estrella Damm.
From being nearly eighty miles ahead of their French rivals, the RCN Barcelona flagged IMOCA Open 60 and Groupe Bel are now alongside each other on the same longitude and separated north-south by just 12 miles.
Ribes, on good form on today’s Visio-Conference and visibly enjoying every hour of his race along with his partner Pella, quipped that they would be getting the binoculars out to scan the horizon for the Red Cow Boys on the Laughing Cow.
'We have been looking for them but cannot see them although they are not very far. The last boat we saw was Mirabaud in the Canary Islands and when they were twenty miles away we could see them. But today we can’t see Groupe Bel. I would like to see them to have a reference.' Said Ribes today.
'We have to set the pace quite high on Estrella Damm so when we have a boat near then it is effectively still the same pace as when we are alone. But when you have anyone around you are losing or winning every four hours directly. When you have someone a hundred miles away and you get the sched if they gain 10 miles you can’t do anything, but now when you have the boats 20 miles away it’s sailing with your wind conditions too, so it’s more demanding because you lose if you are obviously doing something wrong, but we try to set the pace quite high here at the moment.'
Estrella Damm were holding off the advances of the French duo, who have consistently had slightly more breeze due to their more favorable position to the north over past days. But Ribes seemed fairly confident that he and Pella would be better placed when the next windshift, from the SW reaches them.
With the dominant high pressure systems likely to remain in place, one under South Africa which is giving the last third of the fleet upwind conditions, and one to the west south west of the Kerguelen Islands, there is every chance that more of these nasty low pressure systems will spin off the Madagascar breeding ground, probably later in the week, towards the weekend. As long as the blades of the two wind generation mills are turning, drawing up the cold polar air in the west and pulling down the warm, moist tropical air, these violent depressions are generated.
For Ribes, today’s small pleasure – the reward after a difficult 24 hours which saw them making a big repair to their Code Zero – was a welcome curry.
Dee Caffari and Anna Corbella on GAES Centros Auditivos, who passed the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope this morning at 0930hrs UTC, have been feasting on Caffari’s favourite Haribo sweets.
On her fourth passage past the South African Cape, twice from east-to-west and now twice from west-to-east, Caffari said 'We can’t stay miserable and have to remain positive as we have these conditions for a while. Reaching another milestone is always good and it is fantastic for Anna to have passed the Cape of Good Hope today, something she has never done before on a race.'
GAES Centros Auditvos was joined on the video link by Mike Golding in Barcelona, who wished the girls every success and advocated patience and prudence, keeping the boat together, as virtues as they slog upwind.
'The opportunities will come, there is such a long way to go, the main thing just now is to keep the boat together.' Golding, who made up more than 600 miles of deficit on the leaders in the 2004-5 Vendée Globe said, 'Remember there are big, big opportunities in the Southern Ocean.'
The British skipper, twice IMOCA World Champion, third in the 2004-5 Vendée Globe, also made the day for Juan Merediz and the race’s youngest co-skipper Fran Palacio on Central Lechera Asturiana.
Speaking to the duo who are sailing his former Ecover 2, which is on its third circumnavigation, and are having to stop in Cape Town to make a repair to their leaking keel hydraulics, there were radiant smiles from the sailors when Golding said that maybe their technical pit stop would reap the same dividend for them that Jean-Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron seemed to get from their temporary halt in Recife, Brazil: 'So I will be expecting to see you leading in three weeks time.' Golding chuckled.
'Listen, if we are back within our group within three weeks we will be quite happy.' Responded Palacio, who paid tribute to Golding after whom they have christened their autopilot ‘Miguel’
'We are glad ‘you’ are doing such a good job. Thanks' said Palacio.