Barcelona World Race - After two days on land, making key repairs to the rig and boat, Virbac-Paprec 3 is back on the racecourse and in pole position this afternoon. Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron (FRA) slipped their lines at exactly 1111hrs (CET) today, having completed the mandatory 48-hours on shore for their technical stopover.
The Virbac-Paprec 3 team reported that by noon, the French duo had exited Wellington Bay under full sail and in this afternoon’s 1500hrs ranking were making 11 knots into the Pacific Ocean.
'We must win this race,' commented Jean-Pierre Dick this afternoon after the duo had been sailing for around an hour. 'We will do everything to keep the race lead and continue the great run we started.'
Around 150 miles behind, Mapfre were making solid 10-11 knot speeds in tricky unstable breezes off the coast of New Zealand. Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez (ESP) rounded Farewell Point at 1430 (CET) and are expected through the center of Cook Strait tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, Groupe Bel was around 150 miles from Farewell Point, with Estrella Damm about 22 miles behind. However, with unpredictable shifty conditions that will yet fare best during the final approach to Wellington is hard to determine.
As Pepe Ribes (ESP) emailed from Estrella Damm earlier today: 'The forecast is not the same as the conditions we are actually experiencing. With all this instability it’s difficult to predict when we will get to Cook. A few hours ago we were running, now we’re close-hauled, it’s now impossible to guess.'
And while Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron were able to enjoy a shower and two nights of solid rest in Wellington, for the boats who will be sailing straight through this coastal section of the Barcelona World Race also represents a tough 200 miles: 'The Cook Strait is a lottery, with little wind and strong currents, i.e. a lot of work,' added Ribes.
Kito de Pavant(FRA), their nearest rival on Groupe Bel, echoed the sentiment, writing: 'It's a little lottery. The jackpot will be for Virbac-Paprec 3 who will leave tonight with a boat that's been given a thorough after-sales service on site. He has built a comfortable lead from the second boat, which is slowed by light winds. But others can also take some consolation prizes: Renault Z.E. should not be too unhappy about this, as well as Neutrogena and Mirabaud.'
Fifth-placed Renault Z.E. has gained 60 miles on Estrella Damm in the past 24 hours, while Neutrogena have pulled away by 45 miles from Mirabaud in the same period.
Of course, regardless of who is fastest to Wellington, Groupe Bel will be turning left into the Kiwi capital to repair sails. That will leave Mapfre and Estrella Damm to contest the honor of being first Spanish team through Cook Strait: as yet no announcement from either on whether they will or will not be making a pit-stop with all the skippers keeping their tactics close to their chest. Who will show their hand first remains to be seen.
Both Anna Corbella (ESP) on GAES Centros Auditivos and the We Are Water duo of Jaume Mumbru and Cali Sanmarti (ESP) today spoke of a ‘fiesta’ of full-on winds that await them.
Approaching the entrance to the Pacific as they near the last Eastern Australian gate, GAES Centros Auditivos have a high pressure system ahead of them, and advancing low behind. As Dee Caffari (GBR) explained: 'We’re being chased down from behind by a depression with a front system, so in 24 hours we’re going to have some big winds.
'The GRIB files say 35 knots, but we know from experience in reality that will be 45. And because it’s a frontal system it will be quite squally with gusts so you could see something in excess of 55 knots, but we just don’t know until it arrives.'
To avoid the same high pressure zone of light winds which is north-east of GAES Centros Auditivos, the Hugo Boss team of Andy Meiklejohn (NZL) and Wouter Verbraak (NED) took a radically inshore route within just 3 miles off the coast of Tasmania this morning – no doubt keeping a sharp eye on their depth sounder. After frequent tacks, this afternoon Hugo Boss was back up to 10 knots and heading east away from Hobart.
For We Are Water, some 2,700 miles behind, a separate front is developing that could bring the 12th boat strong northerly breezes, which the skippers’ expect to reach 40-50 knots. For one team, however, the weather forecast was looking good.
Tenth-placed Forum Maritim Català has been the fastest boat on the course for the past 24 hours and was sailing at 16 knots this afternoon, having just entered the eastern boundary of the Australian Barrier gate. Skipper Gerard Marin (ESP) reported surfing conditions, saying today: 'We haven’t yet had more than two or three days of consistent wind, but it looks like we'll hold this up to Cook.' Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA), Virbac-Paprec 3:
'The good news is that we have left port on our next adventure! We’re currently underway. The wind is very fluctuating because we are close to the coast and we have to get out from underneath it. We don’t expect there to be a lot of wind in the coming hours as we are under the influence of a high pressure zone. We'll see what happens afterwards.
'Everything went well. We’re pleased with the work. The batten cars were quickly changed, they were only spare parts. There were other things like the bubble roof, parts of the rig and autopilot. But we leave in pretty good shape. We also have made the necessary checks but in the end we didn’t get too deeply into it, because our entire team was not there.
'We ate well and we rested a little. We cannot say it was a fun stopover as there were so many things to do and we stayed with our technical team. But we still slept in a proper bedroom, took a good shower and we set off again with some fresh food such as fruit.
'We must win this race. We will do everything to keep the race lead and continue the great run we started. We knew when we stopped that we had a good opportunity. We had nothing planned at all. We knew we had to stop to be seamanlike about this, because to continue sailing without spare parts wouldn’t be very intelligent.' Dee Caffari (GBR), GAES Centros Auditivos:
'We’re just to the west of a high pressure system and we’re getting the wind going forwards on us, so we’re now upwind. And we’re being chased down from behind by a depression with a front system, so in 24 hours we’re going to have some big winds. They will give a big shift and should go aft on us, but we’re going to see some pretty horrible numbers in the wind strength. So it’s kind of like the lull before the storm.
'The GRIB files say 35 knots, but we know from experience in reality that will be 45. And because it’s a frontal system it will be quite squally with gusts so you could see something in excess of 55 knots, but we just don’t know until it arrives.
'[The gybe] was all good. We’ve actually gybed back so we’re back on a port tack again! But it was quite nice to have everything loaded on the other side for a while, it allowed us to check out that side of the boat and everything was good.
'We’re happy with the boat, it’s just about keeping the boat safe and us safe. And getting through the bad spell, and then we’ll look at the progress to Cook Strait.' Gerard Marin (ESP) Forum Maritim Català:
'Now we have about 24-25 knots of wind from 210 degrees. It's a cold wind which has shifted south, coming from the Pole. We have been about 20 hours with these conditions. The boat’s going fast, conditions are tough, and we’ve been surfing at 20-22 knots. Until now we haven’t been used to these conditions so they’ve come as a surprise.
'It seems that the wind will be veering to astern. We haven’t yet had more than two or three days of consistent wind, but it looks like we'll hold this up to Cook. I guess we've been unlucky but the weather is very fickle. The longer we stay in the South, the more pleasant the sailing conditions.' Rankings at 1400hrs UTC Friday 18 February
1 Virbac-Paprec 3 at 11510 miles to finish
2 Mapfre at 127 miles to leader
3 Groupe Bel at 298 miles
4 Estrella Damm Sailing Team at 320 miles
5 Renault Z.E at 583 miles
6 Neutrogena at 885 miles
6 Mirabaud at 945 miles
8 Hugo Boss at 1216 miles
9 GAES Centros Auditivos at 1431 miles
10 Forum Maritim Catala at 3029 miles
11 Central Lechera Asturiana at 3639 miles
12 We Are Water at 3965 miles
RTD President www.barcelonaworldrace.org