The motorway south to the Equator was opening up for the Barcelona World Race leaders this morning and British skipper Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss was back enjoying life in the fast lane. Speaking on the live video call today, when he was steering the VPLP-Verdier designed IMOCA 60 at more than 20kts in the brisk trade winds, the pleasure was written all over his face. His huge grin spoke volumes.
For Thomson and Spanish co-skipper Pepe Ribes there is the knowledge that the strongest trade winds should last at least through until Friday. There should be breeze to the Equator and the cherry on top is that the Doldrums presently look like they may open the toll barriers wide and let the leaders through without taxing their speeds more than neceesary.
From their position as the most easterly boat of the fleet last night, just 17 miles off the African coast at one point, Thomson and Ribes gybed back towards the pack, sailing west again. Their strategy, as the only boat to go east of the Canary Islands, certainly did not harm them - even if Thomson admitted their angle back to the west was not as beneficial as had been hoped for - and by this Wednesday afternoon, one week after starting in Barcelona, Hugo Boss leads by about 20 miles. The battle for second to fourth is nip and tuck, GAES Centros Auditivos and Cheminees Poujoulat trading third this afternoon and Neutrogena steady second. As per the forecast, the NE'ly trade winds were at a pretty lively 30kts in the middle of the morning and slightly more is anticipated. Thomson was anticipating 32-33kts in the gusts.
The express speeds south might see them break the passage time for Barcelona to the Equator of the last edition. In 2011 the leaders Jean-Pierre Dick an d Loick Peyron - on Virbac Paprec 3, which is now the Hugo Boss of Thomson and Ribes - took 12 day 14 hours to the Equator, which they passed one hour ahead of Foncia. This time the pace is looking like they will reach the Southern Hemisphere by the morning of the 11th, or thereabouts. That is based on current meteo projections.
Of course with the bone-shaking, fast ride south so now the post-start honeymoon period of light and modest breezes is now over. The muscular trade winds and relentless pace will expose any immediate flaws in the partnerships, the race craft and equipment. Thomson emphasized how quickly a virtuous circle can quickly develop if the duos do not look after themselves and each other:
" I dont think either of us have had more than a couple of hours sleep. But we are very conscious of trying to keep the (other) man fresh, it is so important not to make a mistake in these kind of conditions. That costs you miles and then you have to work harder, that means less sleep, and them more probability of mistakes. So it is really important to look after each other."
The battle for second, third and fourth is between well sailed Farr designs of the same generation and it is extremely close. Second was still Guillermo Altadill and Jose Munoz on the Neutrogena who are just 13 miles ahead of Bernard Stamm and Jean Le Cam sailing Cheminees Poujoulat. Both Cheminees Poujoulat and GAES Centros Auditivos were neck and neck and speed-gunned (measured over 30 minutes) at 17.8kts. But the Spanish duo of Anna Corbella and Gerard Marin drew praise from Thomson today for their race so far on GAES Centros Auditivos. They have maintained a high pace and lie fourth, still very much a thorn in the side for the established IMOCA duo Stamm and Le Cam.
" I think GAES has done a fantastic job, really great. They have obviously massively upped their game for this Barcelona World Race and they are definitiely contend ers now. I am not surprised how close we all are, so far." Thomson admitted today.
In many respects too the honeymoon period for the like of Aleix Gelabert and Didac Costa on One Planet One Ocean/Pharmaton is also drawing to a close. They have sailed the fleet's oldest IMOCA 60, the former Kingfisher, astutely and with alacrity these first few days but as they line up to drive south all on the same route with the same trade winds, it is inevitable they will lose miles to those behind and ahead. They have lost 100 miles to the leaders in 24 hours, not least as they have been sailing west. As Gelabert, sixth overall, confirmed today:
" Our boat is the oldest one so it not as good a performance in the same conditions. In these conditions now the other boats are faster. Also they had more wind before us so they are going faster so it’s normal that they get way now a little bit earlier.And as for We Are Water we are not worried about We Are Wate r. We kn ow that she was going to catch us and Bruno and Willy are sailing well and going west is a good tactical decision also. So they will probably catch us. They have a boat with a better performance so its normal if they catch up us fast."
Check Alex Thomson's full interview on: www.imocaoceanmasters.com