Bunched together at the front of the pack, the leaders of the fleet are caught in the clutches of shifty tradewinds, which aren’t allowing them any respite.
Evidence of the intense rhythm of this 11th Transat Jacques Vabre for the IMOCA class is that 5 boats (Cheminées Poujoulat, PRB, MACIF, Maître CoQ and Safran respectively) were within an 80-mile radius of one another this morning in terms of the distance to the goal, namely Itajaï (Brazil). This goal lies some 3,600 miles ahead of Cheminées Poujoulat, the new leader at the 1230 GMT ranking.
Meantime, MACIF had gained a slight edge on exiting the Bay of Biscay and was outsprinting her closest pursuers by a good fifty miles or so before she was forced to make a forced pit-stop in Peniche (Portugal), to swap her starboard rudder, meaning she had to start her bid for supremacy all over again some three days ago. Back up into third place, some thirty miles astern of Bernard Stamm and Philippe Legros, this morning François Gabart and Michel Desjoyeaux described how difficult it is to make good headway in a shifty tradewind punctuated by a large number of squalls.
Even though they, like Vincent Riou and Jean Le Cam (PRB), only suffered a little in the wind shadow created by the Madeira archipelago, the wind proved to be somewhat fickle for the top five. This was also true for Safran and Maître CoQ, who were positioned further to the west, forcing each duo to remain extremely focused on the trimming so as to best negotiate the variations in the wind’s strength (12 to 20 knots) and direction (30 to 40° shifts!). Constantly easing and hardening sheets and adjusting the automatic pilot, watching the state of the sky and the sea to optimise the boat’s ability to make headway, the hours spent in the tradewinds are far from relaxing for the top sailors in the IMOCA class, who are demonstrating a great talent for applying themselves by remaining tightly bunched at the front of the fleet. Indeed any easing off of the pace would quickly be penalized on these boats, which are clearly very similar in terms of performance.
In 6th position, Louis Burton and Guillaume Le Brec are continuing to hang on in there, a little less than 130 miles behind the leaders, whilst Bertrand de Broc and Arnaud Boissières (Votre Nom Autour du Monde) are lamenting the loss of their large gennaker. Grouped within forty miles of each other, 300 miles shy of the leaders, Energa, Team Plastique (the only IMOCA 60 competing with a fixed keel) and Initiatives-Cœur are paying for the lack of performance of their less modern boats.
According to the routing software, as the fleet approaches the Doldrums things are forecast to be complicated for everyone and uncertainty remains with regards the tradewinds and the best way through into the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). There’s a long way to go yet!