Barcelona World Race 2011 may have conclusively proved, for Hugo Boss co-skippers Wouter Verbraak (NED) and Andy Meiklejohn (NZL), that the best laid plans can indeed go awry. Having once again adapted to their changing circumstances they are today powering north-east, having resumed sailing at 1814hrs (UTC) yesterday evening.
If there is any tinge of regret regarding the sequence of events that led up to their unexpectedly lengthy pause in the Falkland Islands, there was little trace of it in Wouter Verbraak’s audio-conference with Barcelona this morning, when he spoke of how pleased they were with their newly repaired boat: 'The guys have managed to do more than we envisaged in a short time. I would say we’re now 99 per cent back to full racing mode. It’s nice to have the boat with full main again, we can’t believe how big it is, having not seen it for the last six weeks!'
However, any hopes of a gentle reintroduction to the race course will be short-lived, with a deep low pressure cell forming rapidly off the South American coast which looks set to bring gale force winds for both Hugo Boss and nearest rivals Fòrum Maritim Catala building in from this evening.
'We’re anticipating way too much wind!' explained Wouter Verbraak, 'The forecast is for gale force winds, 35-40 knots, luckily it’s downwind but you should never underestimate any system like this, especially here the models tend to underestimate the wind. So judging by what the guys ahead of us had a week ago, we could be in for some rough weather sailing for another 36 hours. Strong conditions are always the same, there’s not much to gain and there’s a lot to lose, so we’ll just keep doing like we’ve been doing from the beginning of the race. Which is to nurse the boat through it and make sure we’re a little bit more on the safe side rather than the fast side when we have a chance.'
Equally strong, if not more severe, conditions are also looming for We Are Water. On the final approach to Cape Horn having exited the East Pacific ice gate this morning, a large depression looks set to overtake Jaume Mumbru and Cali Sanmarti (ESP) in the next couple of days.
For those boats approaching the Doldrums, the opposite conditions are providing a different trial. Renault Z.E., Estrella Damm and Neutrogena have spent much of the past 24 hours languishing under a baking sun with poorly established trade winds that has plummeted their average speeds to just 5 knots or less. Renault Z.E. have lost almost 100 miles to the leaders in 24 hours, while for Estrella Damm and Neutrogena a single puff of cloud can have a big difference on the tiny margins which separate the pair – back to 18 miles this afternoon, having been half that this morning.
As Alex Pella (ESP) described this morning, they have been racing a front towards the Doldrums, which yesterday once again overtook and virtually becalmed them. 'Right now our situation is that we’re racing against a cloud line, I think now we’ve started to move a little, and right now we’re going at eight knots. We’ve seen Neutrogena under the boom and now right they are on our stern, we can see with binoculars so they must be 10 miles away.'
Meanwhile for the front-runners, more consistent northern trade winds currently leave few tactical options open. Speaking to his team earlier today, Iker Martinez (ESP) explained their battle onboard Mapfre with leaders Virbac-Paprec 3, currently 219 miles ahead:
'We are going two hundred per cent. Anytime we are nearer from the leader, she just moves away. Here on Mapfre each position report is awaited with bated breath. We’ve still got some cards to play with and the first one will come most probably in the Canary Islands. If it goes well, we will face a new battle. If not, the French pair will run away once and for all. It is clear that we have to do something carefully considered, nothing crazy.
'We’ll see if it is possible to catch them! To be honest, we are quite surprised at how fast she is going. But we hope to turn things around. We keep trying!'
The last boat still in port, Central Lechera Asturiana today reported that after 19 days of repairs, their mast is expected to rejoin the boat in Wellington from nearby Hakes Marine on Thursday. Replacement rigging is also in transit from Valencia, and once the team have been able to re-step the rig they will undergo sea trials before deciding whether to rejoin the Barcelona World Race. Standings at 1400hrs UTC Tuesday 22nd March, 2011:
1 Virbac-Paprec 3 at 2352,6 miles from the finish
2 Mapfre at 219,3 miles from the leader
3 Renault Z.E at 964,8 miles
4 Estrella Damm Sailing Team at 1234,6 miles
5 Neutrogena at 1252,1 miles
6 Gaes Centros Auditivos at 1864,3 miles
7 Hugo Boss at 3888,2 miles
8 Forum Maritim Catala at 4054,9 miles
9 We Are Water at 5698,7 miles
10 Central Lechera Asturiana at 9197,7 miles
RTD Groupe Bel
RTD Mirabaud Barcelona World Race website