The final tacks by Cheminées Poujoulat, and subsequently those by Neutrogena and GAES Centros Auditivos, are likely to be rather lively as they approach the Strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean. Indeed a small low centred over the strait is currently influencing a somewhat feisty Portuguese tradewind between the African coast and the Azores High. However a final beat is not unusual for those competing in the Barcelona World Race.
You have to earn your passage into the Mediterranean when you’re coming up from the equator. In fact, the Azores High plays a decisive role, most often forcing the fleet to contend with north-easterly winds in the days before they hook up with Gibraltar once more. Whilst those competing in a Vendée Globe can choose whether or not to round to the west of the Azores High and make it back into the Bay of Biscay via the North, in this instance the duos have no option other than to tackle the high pressure to the South. The consequences are twofold: they considerably slow the progress of the sailors trying to make it back into the Mediterranean and really put the gear under strain. As such, any comparisons between two events shouldn’t be taken too seriously. If all goes according to plan though, Bernard Stamm and Jean le Cam should finish in a time of 84 days, thus improving on the record set by Jean-Pierre Dick and Damian Foxall in the first edition of the race by around 8 days.
Express South Atlantic
This new reference time is essentially down to a combination of two factors. Without racking up any new 24-hour records, Bernard Stamm and Jean Le Cam have put up a very consistent performance and set a steady pace for the whole fleet. It is also worth noting that the crews on Neutrogena and GAES Centros Auditivos are also on course to improve on the previous reference time for the Barcelona World Race. In addition to this regularity, these three crews, and the leader in particular, have benefited from favourable conditions in the South Atlantic, Cheminées Poujoulat setting a new outright speed record in IMOCA between Cape Horn and the equator of 12d 18h, which equates to nearly 24 hours less than François Gabart in the last Vendée Globe.
A single retirement
The race isn’t over yet of course, but it should be noted that thus far Hugo Boss is the only boat forced to retire from the race following her dismasting offshore of Brazil. The fluidity of double-handed sailing, which enables the crews to take it in turns at the helm and (perhaps) be more vigilant with regards to the requisite maintenance of the gear, along with the increasing professionalism of the shore crews, both go some way to explaining this solid performance. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the allowing of pit stops has enabled three crews to get back in the saddle again, without which they might not otherwise have been able to complete their adventure. The latter is also one of the special features of the Barcelona World Race: the inevitability of the Vendée Globe is somewhat tempered here, even though the technical pit stop often has an immediate impact on the ranking. What one loses in human adventure and dramatisation of the event, one regains by enabling virtually all the fleet to continue racing all the way to the finish.
Mastering double-handed racing
With the passing editions, the various tales that have made it back to the dock have enabled the sailors to get a better understanding of how to handle being cut off from the world for three months in what are often harsh conditions. It is still too early to draw any definitive conclusions, but it is clear that in this regard the crews are better prepared: each of them knows why they’re setting sail together and the objectives are more clearly stated. Bernard Stamm, who spoke of his great collaboration with Jean Le Cam at this Thursday’s radio link-up briefly summed up the situation: “in that regard, we haven’t put a foot wrong…”