Barcelona World Race - There was a certain ‘morning after the night before’ mood evident among the skippers who were contacted by audio and video today.
It was not just the bleary eyed tiredness - the inevitable product of more than forty-eight hours of intense on-the-edge racing in very difficult, unstable conditions and very big confused seas which had prevailed in very different sections of the fleet, but there was also a very obvious measure of relief: satisfaction to have their campaigns still firmly intact, competitive and on course which was immediately apparent.
When the going gets really tough - proper boat breaking conditions - it becomes prudent to back off, to reduce sail and slow down. But when there is a boat alongside you which you have been dueling with, trading blows over previous days, brinksmanship finally gives way to prudence.
And so it was today that both of the co-skippers of third placed Groupe Bel and Estrella Damm, Kito de Pavant and Pepe Ribes, confirmed that the time came almost simultaneously last night when their sparring had to stop and boat and self-preservation took over.
De Pavant, who along with gentle giant co-skipper Seb Audigane, is living this race by the maxim ‘ sail safe sail fast’ on their Groupe Bel, earlier described the conditions prior to easing off as ‘madness’.
It was not so much the wind-strength but the confused cross seas which were launched their IMOCA Open 60 into huge voids or into the back of big waves, which required them to regulate their pace, sailing for several hours with just a double reefed mainsail. He confirmed that Audigane suffered some bruising when he was thrown across the boat like a rag doll Ribes, co-skipper of Estrella Damm, said:
'In the last forty-eight hours we had to back off because the seas were confused and we did not want to break the boat, so we were happy to see they were losing a bit. So it showed us they were backing of a bit, at the same time as we were.
But now at the moment we have good conditions, so we have been able to speed up a little and get away from them again.' De Pavant echoed:
'It was normal not too push too much. Ahead of 90 degrees of the wind we were going too fast, we said to slow, it was just not good. We stuck the nose into some big waves, with some big frights. So we chose to lift the foot off the pedal a little, perhaps not even for the boat which can maybe take more, but more for us.
It was incredibly loud inside the boat. Now it has quietened a bit, we have more sail up again and are making between 15 and 20 knots as the puffs come through.'
'The decks have been well washed these last few days, the boat is very clean.'
Eighteen hundred miles or so behind, on Hugo Boss in tenth place, Andy Meiklejohn and Wouter Verbraak were smiling too, this morning appreciating the sudden appeal of a seascape painted in featureless flat grey hues, reaching along today at workmanlike speeds on nearly flat seas.
The conditions this morning had abated as the duo worked SE and were not so much typical of the Indian Ocean, more reminiscent of Verbraak’s native North Sea. But the Dutch co-skipper recalled vividly that only hours earlier, last night they had been relying on simple first principles, sailing the massively powerful IMOCA Open 60 by feel, as if blindfolded in the empty darkness which they found themselves in.
It was, they said, physically the toughest hours of their race so far: 'Every time when the pilot can’t steer the boat we have to drive by hand for hour after hour. And with seas of three to four metres you jump off the waves in seconds. The big challenge is to have anything to steer off.
You can only see the four displays on the mast. Maybe a star here or there, but otherwise it is pitch black, back to dinghy sailing days, sailing by feel blindfold. In saying that on Hugo Boss we do a pretty good job swapping between helmsmen. After one hour you are completely cracked: knackered and just need to sleep.' Reported Verbraak.
So respite is widely welcomed almost all the way through the Barcelona World Race fleet today, even if they are essentially racing in at least three different weather systems, from Jean Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron at the front of the fleet, with a stable lead of 419 miles over MAPFRE, making a steady 16 knots, back to the scrapping back-markers We Are Water and FMC.
The Spanish duos passed the Cape of Good Hope longitude this morning at only half an hour separating them. The two teams may be nearly an ocean behind Virbac-Paprec 3, but their race is every bit as intense as the leaders! Ironically FMC became the first boat of the race so far to have emerged from Ghost Mode having gained places on the leader board.
Juan Merediz and Fran Palacio emerged from Cape Town this afternoon, getting their race back on track on Central Lechera Asturiana. They arrived for their technical pit stop this morning at 0115hrs UTC last night and were back out on the race track this evening, the race’s youngest co-skipper Palacio and its only true remaining amateur, lawyer Merediz resolute and ready to fight on with a deficit of around 185 miles to 11th placed We Are Water. Standings at 1400hrs 4th February
1 VIRBAC-PAPREC 3 at 15 547,6 from finish
2 MAPFRE at 419,1 miles to leader
3 ESTRELLA DAMM Sailing Team at 549,7 miles
4 GROUPE BEL at 586,8 miles
5 RENAULT Z.E at 805,9 miles
6 MIRABAUD at 1464,9 miles
7 NEUTROGENA at 1469,9 miles
8 GAES CENTROS AUDITIVOS at 2065,7 miles
9 HUGO BOSS at 2311 miles
10 FORUM MARITIM CATALA at 2704,2 miles
11 WE ARE WATER at 2716,3 miles
12 CENTRAL LECHERA ASTURIANA at 2896,7 miles