Cheminées Poujoulat, Barcelona World Race leaders, are expected to make their tack towards the Mediterannean this evening, albeit still with about 1100 miles to sail to Gibraltar. Current routing has them into the Med on Sunday 22nd March. The final stage to Barcelona should take around two and a half to three days which, everything remaining equal, would see the Swiss-French duo finishing some time on 25th March.
For the moment the pacemakers are still in relatively settled 12-14kts NE'ly trade winds in the south of the Azores high pressure system. They are expected to tack east, passing between the Canary Islands and Madeira and then route closer to the African coast where there is better breeze.
Right now routine is both friend and enemy. Vigilance and discipline remain priorities. For all three duos in the North Atlantic this is when the race can really start to drag, there is only so much trimming and tweaking can be done. The head and body are fully engaged in the mechanics of making the boat go as fast as possible but the finish line beckons. The mind inevitably drifts to Barcelona and eight or nine days time, to fresh food, laughter, a dry bed and hotel facilities in the Catalan capital, reunited with friends and family.
And on board as well as the regular requirements of weather routing, maintenance, rest, the talk will become more focused on future IMOCA an d race projects - learned practical, pragmatic details like ergonmics and protection - but also the pie-in-the-sky new IMOCA 60 has no doubt been designed and finessed by the duos down to the small details.
About now reality starts to bite. While the Barcelona World Race duos have been racing around the world, the competitive sailing world has still been spinning around too. A whole new generation of IMOCA 60s are on the stocks, launched or ready to be launched. Some Barcelona skippers no doubt have their future mapped out, but life beyond the finish line is also looming large.
For the duos in second and third just 92 miles separates Neutrogena and GAES Centros Auditivos. Guillermo Altadill and José Munoz are a click faster than Anna Corbella and Gérard Marín. Corbella has mixed feelings about the race soon being over: " We are happy because we are closer to home. We are sailing upwind with the trade winds, so we only have to wait for the days to pass and then we will be at home. We are happy at the moment." She is clear that their passing lanes have largely run out and their reality is that final chances are really limited to the approach to the Mediterranean and the final four or five hundred miles in the home sea of three of the four Catalan co-skippers.
Corbella continues: "We don't have a lot of chances to catch Neutrogena at the moment because we are sailing upwind. The speeds of the boats are similar and the only difference is we are a little bit more in the east. So maybe we can gain something for that. At the moment we don't see a lot of options. Probably we will get a little bit closer to them and then in the Mediterranean we weill try to catch them. We feel like that the courses are a straight line and it is the same for Neutrogena, because the wind is not going to change. So it is like a road with not many options. We go north, we will tack and probably in the Med there will be some options."
Eleven hundred miles south of the equator the balance is tipped back in favour of We Are Water. Mid ocean rendezvous checked off their 'to do' list, Bruno and Willy Garcia had stepped away from Aleix Gelabert and Didac Costa with more speed. But this Tuesday afternoon there are still only nine miles - north south - separating them and speeds remain resoloutely even in the 12-14kts ENE'ly breeze. Renault Captur appear to have their mojo back, fastest in the fleet over the 24hours to 0500hrs UTC. But Jorg Riechers and Seb Audigane had to gybe and negotiate a ridge of lighter airs since then, making a modest 10-11kts NW this afternoon. Spirit of Hungary have been making hay since Cape Horn, sailing good speeds today in pleasingly brisk W'ly winds. They passed through the Le Maire straits and are 65 miles west of the Falklands this afternoon.
Conrad Colman wrote of their passage today:
" After missing out on seeing the Isla Hornos despite passing only three miles away, I was particularly keen to head north via the Straights of Le Maire that offer a short cut between the end of the patagonian mainland and Isla de De Los Estados. The straights are known for strong unwieldy currents and strange wind shifts and so it proved to be today. We reached in on an easterly and underneath a small band of cloud the wind did a U turn in 20 seconds and we ended up punching out on a strong north westerly wind that has carried us rapidly up to the Falkland Islands." " It was really special to be able to shave the island on the way as we haven’t seen land since New Zealand (there aren’t any islands that far south in the Pacific) and it was a joy to set our eyes on something that wasn’t moving for a while. The ragged grey cliffs and stunted tussock grass speak volumes about the weather here as any plant with delusions of grandeur would be chewed off by the constant gnawing teeth of the constant gales. There is a rugged timeless beauty in these inhospitable cliffs and valleys and I like passing by the end of the earth knowing that at least this corner of the world will remain untrammelled and might still look how it did centuries ago."