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Duck or cover?

© Thierry Martinez
© Thierry Martinez

The South is looming. The leading boats in the Barcelona World Race are expected to reach 40°S, the border post of the ‘deep south’, on Wednesday. So for leaders Cheminées Poujoulat and their nearest rivals Neutrogena, as well as third-placed Gaes Centros Auditivos, today was a day to prepare – mentally, practically and tactically – for the fast-approaching challenges of the Southern Oceans.

At this morning’s 0900 position report there were just 10 miles dividing first and second position, and around 60 miles between them on the water. However, Guillermo Altadill and Jose Muñoz on Neutrogena have since opted to dive south, increasing the separation to almost 150 miles while Cheminées Poujoulat continues east.   

Despite periods of solid north-westerly breeze, as the leading boats approach the front the conditions are becoming variable and challenging. Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat) compared the conditions to the Doldrums, reporting that last night they experienced a 37-knot squall, commenting that “We are trying to preserve the boat first and foremost”.

For the leaders the questions are stacking up – to sail conservatively or keep the pressure on? To cross the front in search of stronger westerly breezes, or cover their rivals? Neutrogena appear to have ducked south for pressure this afternoon, bidding to be first into the building westerlies that will speed them towards the Cape of Good Hope. Whether it will pay off is unclear – Stamm commenting earlier today: “We are not waiting for the Southern Oceans, more we are trying to catch up with them. We are trying to go south to catch the westerly winds, it is not simple.”

A well-timed boost

The skippers are also preparing their boats, and their mindsets, for the demanding deep south. Gerard Marìn on GAES Centros Auditivos explained how he and Anna Corbella were shifting weight aft in the boat, in preparation for the surfing conditions expected as they head south:

“We are still quite far from the Indian Ocean, but we are moving back all the stuff to the stern, putting all the stacking behind us, because we know that it can slam a lot and we need to try to have everything ready for that occasion.”

Speaking to school pupils during today’s live videoconference, he was asked what his best (and worst) moments of the race had been so far. For he and Anna the sense of achievement at remaining in touch – and critically, in the same weather systems – with the leading duos is huge: “Maybe the best has been the entire race so far. Now we’re getting close to the gateway to the South only 150 miles behind the leaders I think that is a joy.”

There is also the mental preparation for the challenge of diving into the inhospitable southern regions, and Gerard and Anna today received a well-timed confidence boost, blogging: “Today we found a big surprise. There was an envelope full of messages, pictures, letters and drawings from our relatives and our friends. It has been the best moral boost we could have at the gates of the deep South. 

“It is quite curious that we haven’t found it until today. The emotion of that discovery is priceless. Exactly this morning we remarked that the toughest part of the race is about to come: the cold, the waves, the unexplored... and it is a little scary. Thanks to today’s surprise, GAES Centros Auditivos faces the next days with more strength.” 

The leading trio can expect broadly similar weather patterns over the next 24 hours, with winds set to build to around 35 knots from the north-west before shifting to the south-west on Wednesday as the first boats cross the front.

For fourth-placed Renault Captur, however, conditions are markedly different, with Jörg Riechers and Sébastien Audigane suffering in a zone of light, unstable breezes to the north of the St Helena High and have been the slowest boat on the course over the past 24 hours, shedding 140 miles to the leaders.

Around 320 miles further west, Bruno and Willy Garcia on We Are Water are making steady progress south, while sixth-placed One Planet One Ocean Pharmaton have opted for a more westerly route, closer to the Brazilian coast. In seventh place Spirit of Hungary is benefitting from stable trade wind conditions to give them solid 12-knot plus averages.

See all skippers quotes on: www.imocaoceanmasters.com


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