Barcelona World Race leaders Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron passed under the 1000 miles to the finish mark, but with the boat slamming in the short seas, and the winds set to build, the French duo were in conservation mode, perhaps paying little heed to the fact that their lead to Mapfre increased to over 310 miles this afternoon while the Spanish duo Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez were slowed as they approached the Canary Islands, setting up to pass to the south of La Palma, but losing speed in the shifty, more unsettled breezes. Mapfre's average this afternoon had dropped to 5.4 knots compared with Virbac-Paprec 3 just under 10 knots.
Dick anxiously admitted that he and Peyron have one final blast of strong winds and agitated seas to pass through before the challenges of Gibraltar, where the 2007-2008 race winning skipper confirms that he expects to pass during the night of Thursday 31st March to Friday the first of April.
He is leaving nothing to chance, and will be remaining extra vigilant through the spell of strong winds which are set to top 40 knots, Virbac-Paprec 3 closing directly towards Essaouira on the Moroccan coast.
Today Dick and Peyron passed under the 1000 miles to the finish mark, but with the boat slamming in the short seas, and the winds set to build, the French duo were in conservation mode, perhaps paying little heed to the fact that their lead to Mapfre increased to over 310 miles this afternoon while the Spanish duo Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez were slowed as they approached the Canary Islands, setting up to pass to the south of La Palma, but losing speed in the shifty, more unsettled breezes. Mapfre's average this afternoon had dropped to 5.4 knots compared with Virbac-Paprec 3 just under 10 knots.
While Dick and Peyron were getting to grips with the prospect of their final gale, their 24 hours distance record set on January 22 was ratified by the WSSRC at 506.33 miles. Jean-Pierre sounds his note of anxiety and caution:
'We are a bit anxious. We feel a bit vulnerable and the seas let you know that, but these are the dangers of the course, and so we lift the pressure a little and try not to break anything at this stage.'
For both of the leaders the wind prospects still show headwinds all the way through the Straits of Gibraltar, with a possible reprise of the strong Easterly Levante wind which slowed Paprec-Virbac 2 en route to triumph in February 2008.
The all-Spanish duel for third heats up with a sole strategic option falling to Renault Z.E Sailing Team’s Pachi Rivero and Toño Piris. For them there is a chance to cross the ridge of high pressure to get to more favorable NW and Northeasterly winds which are expected to develop but their gamble is how light the winds in the ridge would actually be.
Alternatively they choose to stay east and protect their position, staying where they can stay in charge of Estrella Damm, following the classic tactic of keeping between the opposition and the finish. So do Renault Z.E Sailing Team twist, and push north, or stick – but risk losing some of their 160 miles cushion to their rivals Pepe Ribes and Alex Pella.
'They have a pretty good advantage ahead, but we do try to keep an eye on the boats round is, but mostly Renault which would be the next boat we try and pass. But at the moment we are going upwind and we know that they are faster than us and they have a significant lead. It will be difficult to pass them but we are never giving up hope. We’ll keep pushing and it makes the race more exciting.' said Pella today.
Jaume Mumbru and Cali Sanmarti were very close to Ushuaia on We Are Water, preparing for their technical stop to repair their boom which they broke on March 25. Antonio Piris (ESP) Renault ZE Sailing Team:
'We have the reefed main and Solent and the boat is making good speed which is important. We don’t know when we will go to the east, tacking or maybe we will do something different. We see there is the option of going more north west and making a bigger curve which would be more effective and save us some tacks.
As far as ghost mode goes we don’t really have a big interest in it, for us we thought about it but kind of figure that if we go for it then; the others would follow suit, and for us just now it is more important to see those who are chasing us, unless of course Estrella Damm did it first.
And we don’t have much left to the Canaries and you have to use it before then.
You do know all the noises that the boat makes by now, and yes, some noises changes but there is nothing that really worries us. All the problems we have had we have managed to deal with ourselves. Pachi knows the boat so well and what I have in boatbuilding skills we have managed to sort out, so now we are hoping we can get the dividend for all of these months of work. Our ETA for Gibraltar? I think the Fourth of April is early, but it depends, if we get the more northerly wind early then we might get there quicker.' Alex Pella (ESP) Estrella Damm:
'They have a pretty good advantage ahead, but we do try to keep an eye on the boats round is, but mostly Renault which would be the next boat we try and pass. But at the moment we are going upwind and we know that they are faster than us and they have a significant lead. It will be difficult to pass them but we are never giving up hope. We’ll keep pushing and it makes the race more exciting.
According to the forecast we think it will be hard upwind to the Strait and so we have cracked the sails a little bit, the wind was from 40-50 degrees, now it is more like 70-80 degrees. And the boat is starting to feel a bit tired so we really don’t want to push it too hard. Noises change on the boat and sometimes you talk about new ones. And if you feel something is not normal then we especially discuss it.
The new boats always evolve and are expected to go quicker and of course JP and Loïck have a lot of experience between them, and that covers materials, sails and going fast. But the boat is very quick and has great potential. Even with their two stops they did not really lose time, but when you do a race like this with a new boat, often you have problems with the equipment and the problems are reliability, as happened for Foncia, but not so much for them. But in general it is amazing to see how they sail.
Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA) Virbac Paprec 3:
Virbac Paprec 3 - Barcelona World Race - Virbac Paprec 3
'It is quite rough with a short sea and so we try to get thorugh this gale in good shape. We need to be in this area and get through it because at this level of racing you cant avoid it, there is a big advantage in getting to the Moroccan coast. We will see at up to 40 knots of wind, the objective is just to get through. We have checked everything and will take in the reefs but it is stressing. We are usually inside as much as we can because there is a lot of water across the deck.
The last time in Gibraltar it was windy too and it is always impressive between the cargo ships and you really need to always pay attention in both directions. But we are feeling a bit vulnerable at this stage, and so you have to always be aware of the dangers of the course. And one of the sayings of the sailor, it will be finished when we finish.
We can’t even predict the ETA even with the best files. But on the night of the 31st we should pass Gibraltar and then up the Mediterranean is a bit fuzzy. We can go fast until then but probably finish between the Third and Fifth April. We are in good shape physically.
We are keen to be finished, and look forward to it. We like being at sea, but we will be glad to have the comforts of dry land. Three months of camping has its limits. When I get back my son will be seven months. And it will be interesting. I have had photographs and he does not look like he did. I don’t know how he will react. He has not seen me for three months. It is something which will happen of course, but I am a little nervous of how he will react.' Standings of Tuesday 29 March at 1400hrs
1 Virbac-Paprec 3 986 miles to finish
2 Mapfre + 313 miles to leader
3 Renault Z.E at + 1115 miles to leader
4 Estrella Damm Sailing Team at + 1275 miles to leader
5 Neutrogena at + 1309 miles to leader
6 Gaes Centros Auditivos at + 1867 miles to leader
7 Hugo Boss at + 3302 miles to leader
8 Forum Maritim Catala at + 3925 miles to leader
9 We Are Water at 5865 miles to leader
10 Central Lechera Asturiana at + 10564 miles to leader
RTD Groupe Bel
RTD Mirabaud www.barcelonaworldrace.org