The Transat Jacques Vabre’s leading crews in the IMOCA Open 60 class were still, on Wednesday afternoon, reaping the rewards for a good weather start on the passage from Le Havre to Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.
Just this side of 2,000 miles of racing and successive vicious weather systems Jean Pierre Dick and Alex Thomson were separated by fewer than three miles. Both are fighting to extend their advantage over their nearest rival, Banque Populaire, some 350 miles to the south-east.
The current contrast with the stormy conditions, which have virutally prevailed since crossing the start line at 1302hrs last Wednesday, could not be more stark for Banque Populaire, Macif, Safran and Groupe Bel. With scarcely any breeze they are fighting to escape the southern edge of the high pressure zone.
From the nervous tension of big winds and confused seas, a matter of 24 hours later, is replaced by the nervous tension of being rooted to the ocean, scarcely moving while the opposition away to the north is making between twelve and fourteen knots of boat speed. The slight saving grace of the light winds has been a chance to re-group, repair and recuperate. Although they are in the north of this pack by some 150 miles Mike Golding and Bruno Dubois had also slowed today and took advantage of the light airs to climb the mast of Gamesa twice to replace the vanes which transmit their wind data.
On Macif, having made just 53 miles in 24 hours, François Gabart remarked wryly that he had made two cups of tea today, two more than he had managed to make in the last week, while Christopher Pratt on third placed Banque Populaire was down to shorts and crocs as summer, south of the Azores, finally turned up for the IMOCA Open 60 fleet.
Whether Virbac-Paprec 3 and Hugo Boss will hold on to their lead seems a wide open question. Those in the south were all unclear today as to when they could or would escape into the E’ly trade winds to their south. Virbac-Paprec 3 had 18.8 miles on the British-Spanish duo of Thomson and Guillermo Altadill, who in turn had a cushion of 165 miles or so on Banque Populaire. Gamesa is up to fourth place today and was still making small miles on Armel Le Cléac'h and Christopher Pratt this afternoon.
In Class 40 Aquarelle.com hold a steady 94 miles ahead of second placed ERDF des pieds et des mains while the main body of the fleet still had one final cold front to pass. American attorney Nick Halmos, speaking on this afternoon’s Radio Vacs, described it as ‘benign compared to what we have been through’. The skipper of 11th Hour Racing was focusing on getting through the final frontier:
'We are going to play this next storm much more conservatively and we will just try to weather it as best we can. How we look at it is the race starts pretty much fresh tomorrow.' said Halmos who lies in sixth place, racing with Kiwi Hugh Piggin. The British-American pair Hannah Jenner and Jesse Naimark-Rowe are fifth.
Christopher Pratt, co-skipper Banque Populaire: 'We have only very, very light winds with hot sunshine and some left over big waves from the low pressure we had on the last three days. It is certainly not fun to sail in these conditions, no wind, big waves and the wind changing all the time. So a lot of work to sail on the deck.
It is cool sailing with Armel. We are a good team together and he is so focused on the strategy and the navigation and my job is to make the boat go fast, to be on deck as much as possible, so we make good choices. It is nice to be in the sun but we are looking to get into the trade winds very soon and get the kite up and go fast in the direction of Puerto Limon. We stay to the south to get to the trade winds and then look out for another low pressure which is coming from the west, it depends then whether we look to get west to it, or continue to go south for the trade winds.'
Nick Halmos (USA) skipper 11th Hour Racing (USA): 'The days has gone from nice and sunny to dark and grey and windy as another cold front approaches us and we are battening down the hatches and getting ready for another big night of breeze. Things are good on board, spirits are high on board. We lost our wind instruments two nights ago and that has caused some gremlins in our electronics systems, but we seem to be working towards patching it together so everything is good. We are pretty happy, we have been having to push pretty hard to keep up with the two leaders in faster boats and so we seem to be nipping at their heels and so we are thrilled that we have had two big storms, the last one in particular was pretty rough, and the boat took a beating and so we are happy to have got through in one piece.
So we are going to play this next storm much more conservatively and we will just try to weather it as best we can. How we look at it is the race starts pretty much fresh tomorrow. The conditions we are expecting, we have been pushing very hard to get south of the Azores and so we are expecting, by comparison to what we have been through, quite benign conditions, 35knots, maybe 40 knots, 18 foot waves, nothing major compared to what we saw a couple of days ago, but something to be taken very seriously. The rocket growing is coming along just fine, we put it on hiatus through the storms so the system is below and as soon as we are into the trade winds in the next day or so we will be back at it.'
Damien Seguin skipper ERDF Des Pieds et Des Mains: 'No sunshine yet, but conditions are starting to calm down. We are where we are because we wanted to avoid worst of weather. The route seems clear now for next phase. We are feeling much better now that the rough weather is behind us. We are no longer getting soaked, the boat is not slamming and able to eat better. Rough weather only to be expected at this time of year and you quickly get over it. We are studying the weather to try to catch Aquarelle.com but that won’t happen in one or two days though.'
Marc Guillemot, skipper Safran: 'The sails are slatting as there is not much wind. It is good to have Groupe Bel alongside us both looking for wind, but not easy at the moment. We have to remain patient. Our choice has been made and have to accept that. We are just waiting for wind to reappear. With this swell and waves and with no wind there is a lot of pressure on the rig. Not sure I can say I am optimistic. We have a certain distance to cover and it is really difficult to forecast when we’ll be away from the ridge of high pressure.'
Standings at 1700hrs CET on Wednesday, November 9th, 2011.
1 - Virbac Paprec 3 (Jean-Pierre Dick - Jérémie Beyou) : 2744,0 milles to finish
2 - Hugo Boss (Thomson - Altadill) : 18,8 milles to leader
3 - Banque Populaire (Armel Le CLéac'h - Christopher Pratt) : 177,4 milles to leader
1 - Actual (Yves Le Blevec - Samuel Manuard) : 3230,8 milles to finish
2 - Maitre Jacques (Loïc Fequet - Loïc Escoffier) : 309,3 milles to leader
1 - Aquarelle.com (Yannick Bestaven - Eric Drouglazet): 3298,3 milles to finish
2 - ERDF Des Pieds et des Mains (Damien Seguin - Yoann Richomme) : 94,1 milles to leader
3 - Groupe Picoty (Jacques Fournier - Jean Christophe Caso): 141,8 milles
Transat Jacques Vabre website