Monday, 16 November 2009

TJV: Bolting for the Caribbean

Safran. Image copyright Jean-Marie Liot/DPPI/Safran.

by Régis Lerat

The breakaway trio, Safran, Mike Golding Yacht Racing and Groupe Bel continue to profit from the excellent conditions through Sunday, all seeing the speed readouts peaking over 20 knots for periods as the they relish wind, sun and high speeds.

Their Sunday has been a time to re-group, catch up on repairs but most of all simply making sure the pace does not drop off.

As the distance remaining of the 4730 miles course from Le Havre to Costa Rica counted down under 3000 today, Marc Guillemot and Charles Caudrelier's Safran has continued to be a little faster than her pursuers, opening up a lead of 53.7 miles on the British-Spanish duo on Mike Golding Yacht Racing, whilst Kito de Pavant and Francois Gabart is just a little more than 12 miles behind.

The threesome are sprinting south with a cushion of 134 miles back to the British crew on Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson and Ross Daniel, and the best part of 300 miles ahead of the best of the southern group, Foncia. Michel Desjoyeaux and Jeremie Beyou lie eighth.

Golding, pointing out that Safran was still no more than three hours ahead of him, remarked that he felt the three runaways have themselves a ‘glamour hand', but that there are no guarantees. The current routings today sees a more northerly course still paying off, with a much more southerly option still bringing that southerly groups in 200 miles behind the leading trio as they enter the Caribbean Sea, but the weather predictions further down the track are changing all the time.

For all that IMOCA Open 60 skippers usually have just about everything paced by or matched to their powerfully computed data collection and analysis, such have been the effects of the recent storms that several are reduced to first principles, setting sail area by what they see with their eyes, judging wind speed and sea state, rather than being able to take the real and predicted windspeeds off the computer and match them to their known sail cross-over charts.

Golding today said that his speedo was simply how they are doing against their rivals: “We are doing our best to hold on to Safran,” said Golding, “But we are struggling a bit in terms of just knowing where we are, particularly going downhill. We kind of forget how reliant we are on our systems to give us advice on our sail plans and all that, and now here we are just trying to judge whether we have enough or not. Sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong. It is quite hard to gauge it, and to some extent we are using them to measure it, if they are faster we push harder... and if they are lower... well we push even harder!”

For Sam Davies and Sidney Gavignet on 11th placed Artemis, they have been getting towards the end of their long jobs list, one which has left them exhausted and which Gavignet said this morning has cost them many miles, not least 20 hours or so trying to sort out their mainsail problems.


Mike Golding, GBR, (Mike Golding Yacht Racing):

“ We always sort of had a game plan for this race, where we wanted to be at a certain time and place in the racecourse, and so we are very happy with where we are. We don't like that Safran has pulled away a little bit overnight, but that is just one of those things, but in real terms she is just three hours in front of us and really that is not so bad.

“What we want to do is make sure we are in a good, attacking position going to the Caribbean Sea which will present some different options to make an attack on Safran. I certainly think we can, and I certainly think there may even be some conditions down the race course which could favour our boat, and maybe have a little bit of an edge.

"I think there is some opportunities for compression in the future, but the reality is that we have been dealt a glamour hand, us three boats, Bel, Safran and Mike Golding Yacht Racing, it does look like if the gate does not exactly close behind us, it does make it quite hard for them to keep up, because of the way that the weather is closing the door behind us, but as near as dammit.”

Marc Guillemot (FRA) Safran:

“I would like it to be a bit calmer for the last part of the race: we must meantime build a bigger distance from Kito de Pavant and Mike Golding. We have to remain on guard because they are two excellent competitors! We haven't find a solution for the mainsail but we have decided to continue the race with this little problem and maybe find a solution near the Antilles. The weather conditions are pretty good but we are still wet : we are almost all the time under the cuddy : on the boat it's like being next to a big geyser…Actually we're going faster : I think that we could arrive to Puerto Limon at the end of next week.”

Charles Caudrelier Bénac (FRA), Safran:

“It is not yet the trade winds, but they're not far off. Tomorrow, we should be in them. I must admit that Marc and I are both looking forward to getting some fresh air outside on the deck without getting completely soaked.”

“We had one particularly tricky moment on Thursday night, which really stood out. The leeward rudder kicked up and the boat swung around into the direction of the wind, with the mainsail flapping. It was torn about 50 centimetres along the leech. It was not easy fixing the rudder back with tons of water crashing over the deck, but we managed to get the repair done quickly.” “As we're sailing downwind, the tear isn't really having any effect. What counts for the moment is extending our lead if possible. We're not even halfway through the race yet and everyone knows that the end of the voyage in the Gulf of Mexico can be very difficult to predict”.

“We knew our route was going to be tough. We never did anything silly and when the emergency beacon was triggered on BT, that was a particularly difficult time for us. But this route was clearly the fastest, and it was the only way to go. We made a strategic choice remaining fully confident in our boat,"

“We're already looking at where to go between all the islands. We've got an idea in the back of our mind, but I can't tell you anything more. I can just say that we're going to have to gybe and then after that, it should almost be a straight run.”

Transat Jacques Vabre

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