Barcelona World Race - To stop or not to stop? That is definitely the question for the 20 sailors in the BWR yet to announce whether they will make a pit-stop in Wellington (NZL).
The next 24 hours could prove key as some long-held positions go up for grabs, and with more teams potentially considering a Kiwi stopover the rankings could see further reshuffles in future.
One of the Barcelona World Race’s unique elements – the fact that teams may make technical ‘pit-stops’ to repair damage in order to be able to complete the course – looks set to create a fascinating tactical challenge for the 10 teams who have yet to decide whether to pull into Wellington.
On the one hand is the benefit of being able to make essential repairs to potentially race-ending problems with sails, electronics, or other elements of the yacht, allowing the teams to safely resume racing at 100 per cent pace. Countering that is the fact that every boat which stops after 140 degrees East must observe a compulsory time penalty of 48 hours on land, potentially jeopardizing hard-earned miles of advantage over their rivals.
And of course, while 48 hours may not prove a winning margin at this stage at the race, no skipper can predict what will happen over the remaining 11,500 miles of the course after Wellington.
As Iker Martinez (ESP) on Mapfre explained this morning: 'We would rather be third or fourth without stopping, than second with stopping. But we have not yet made a decision. It is difficult because logic tells us that we should stop for safety and performance, but we would prefer not to.
'At this point all the boats are damaged, that’s no secret, but we'll see what we do. Tomorrow we will decide. It depends on several aspects, the most important one being to think about what will get us to the finish faster? Right now, it seems that we’re more likely to arrive in Barcelona earlier if we stop. But countering that is the fact that we don’t know what will happen in the future and how a 48-hour stop would affect that.'
In order to prevent teams from planning stopovers as a race strategy, there are strict rules on what work may and may not be carried out during the pit-stops – for example, the boats may not replace their sails, or intentionally start the race with limited provisions to reduce weight.
Groupe Bel was the first to announce their intention to stop in New Zealand, having suffered damage to two headsails which they will be repairing on land. Kito de Pavant (FRA) joked this morning: 'Well, we’re going to request permission to drink some beer, and we’ll enjoy it!
'We have an obligation to stay in port for at least 48 hours so we’ll have a chance to tinker a lot on the boat. We get to change just about everything except the sails. I was among the first to argue against allowing the boats to take a stock of new sails to Wellington. But I would have done better to keep silent because of what happened to us!' Hugo Boss’s main concern
Whilst no boat has yet to confirm whether they will – or will not – be stopping in Wellington, the Hugo Boss team announced that the IMOCA 60 suffered damage to its main track which has left Andy Meiklejohn (NZL) and Wouter Verbraak (NED) unable to hoist the sail to its full height for three weeks. Around half a meter of main track, which the mainsail is hoisted up the mast along, was ripped away on January 28. Whilst the boat will sail reefed to deliberately reduce the mainsail size in strong winds, in lighter airs the loss of sail area at the top of the mast will be a serious handicap to Hugo Boss.
Today’s announcement from the team states that the co-skippers are hopeful of being able to make a repair without stopping, but they have dispatched a shore team, including original race skipper Alex Thomson (GBR), to Wellington, just in case… Minutes in it
There have already been notable changes on today’s leader board, with Groupe Bel overtaking Estrella Damm this afternoon to move into third. Kito de Pavant and Sébastien Audigane (FRA) are on a more direct course along the coast of New Zealand’s South Island, while Alex Pella and Pepe Ribes (ESP) have tacked further offshore in search of a better angle – after 48 days and over 15,000 miles of ocean racing, the pair crossed tacks just forty five minutes apart.
The next boat to reach New Zealand will be Mapfre, expected at the entrance to Cook Strait in the early hours of the morning (Barcelona time) on Saturday – while Virbac Paprec 3’s forty eight hour time penalty will be completed at 1111hrs (CET).
The other team to celebrate a rise in the rankings is Neutrogena, who have overhauled Mirabaud after a long-standing contest for sixth place which has seen the two teams locked together on a near parallel course since before the Cape of Good Hope, sometimes as little as two miles apart. Boris Herrmann (GER) and Ryan Breymaier (USA) overtook Dominique Wavre (SUI) and Michèle Paret (FRA) this morning, and had extended to 16 miles ahead by today’s 1500hrs update.
Boris Herrmann said that both boats had been relishing the battle: 'It’s very motivating for us and for them. It pushes us – every position report we look first at their speed, their positioning, and that really keeps every going at every moment. Rather than putting negative pressure on us it’s very motivating, and it’s fun.' Rankings at 1400hrs UTC Thursday 17th February
1 Virbac-Paprec 3 at 11533 miles to finish
2 Mapfre at 311 miles to leader
3 Groupe Bell at 511 miles
4 Estrella Damm Sailing Team at 531 miles
5 Renault Z.E at 850 miles
6 Neutrogena at 1151 miles
6 Mirabaud at 1167 miles
8 Hugo Boss at 1384 miles
9 Gaes Centros Auditivos at 1680 miles
10 Forum Maritim Catala at 3387 miles
11 Central Lechera Asturiana at 3800 miles
12 We Are Water at 4202 miles
RTD President www.barcelonaworldrace.org