Tuesday, 24 November 2009

TJV: The Safran monohull expected in Costa Rica Monday night

Safran keeping up the suspense

by Soazig Guého

Since 1100 hrs this morning, Safran and Groupe Bel have switched to stealth mode. They had one final card left to play with the finish still expected in the middle of the night between midnight and 0400 hrs CET (2300 hrs - 0300 hrs GMT).

Even if the two leading boats are now in stealth mode, they are being closely followed by Jean Maurel, the Race Director and by their own teams thanks to the GPS positions regularly and automatically sent back ashore.

Good speeds

The members of the Safran Sailing Team therefore know Safran’s bearing, speed and distance from the finish. Only one thing can be said for now: everything is fine on board, even if the official rankings at 1700 hrs are notable for the absence of the two frontrunners! The track is remaining as smooth as ever and the speed is clearly good in respect to the weather forecasts. On the other hand, the Safran Sailing Team has no way of finding out what is happening aboard Groupe Bel at the moment. A better course, a higher speed? Only the Race Director can reply to that question or indeed one of the members of the Groupe Bel team…

Two hours before the finish

The suspense, which increased when the two boats battling it out for victory slipped into stealth mode, should come to an end two hours before the finishing line is crossed. At that moment, according to Race Instructions, the crews have to make an official announcement. That is why that we shall only find out late in the night what the real gap is between Safran and Groupe Bel. Will it have extended or be much less than the last rankings showed at 0800 hrs this morning, when 90 miles separated them. The suspense is building...

Leading the race for eleven days, the duo of Guillemot - Caudrelier Benac are expected to finish in Costa Rica in the middle of the night (between midnight and 0300 hrs CET, according to the latest forecasts). Second in the last edition of the race, third in the last Vendée Globe, Safran is getting ready to grab first place on the podium.

There is thunder in the air, with lightning flashing across the tropical night sky above the big spinnaker, which is propelling Safran along towards Puerto Limon, although she is now “invisible”. Like Groupe Bel, the boat chasing after them, Marc and Charles have switched to stealth mode for this final stretch of the race. So there will be no positions for the two doing battle before they reach the finish, which means that the tension has increased a notch, with the trade wind changing. Surfing along as they did in the past few days at more than twenty knots where there is the permanent threat of damage now belongs to the past. Marc is tired, but he knows now that the hardest part is behind him. “We still have a few more gybes to go and the final 50 miles look like being rather sluggish, but the lead we currently have allows us to remain composed. The lead over Groupe Bel could be cut, but we’re certainly not going to give anything away now.”

A great track

To be in with a chance of winning, you do not have simply to sail quickly but also in the right direction. This is a well-known principle in ocean racing, and Marc and Charles have applied it to the letter. Since they made their way out of the English Channel on Monday 9th November, Safran’s track has been perfectly smooth. There have been no hesitations, even in the heart of the storm that Safran had to brave. “We know that we have left a smooth trail in our wake. As not everything can be done by the two of us together, concerning the weather it was Charles, who did most of the work picking up and analysing the data”, explained Marc. “Then, we took decisions together. We always agreed about them.”

Safran pushed to her limit

In the lead since Thursday 12th November, or in other words for eleven days, Safran has not only shown the others the way, but has also set a cracking pace. Groupe Bel never managed to find any greater potential to catch them up. But perhaps the best measure to show this high speed pace is to look at Mike Golding’s 60-foot boat. After the storm, as they sailed north of the Azores, the British sailor was just thirty miles behind Safran. Now he is more than 300 miles behind. “With one or two exceptions, we always sailed with the maximum amount of sail. That requires a lot of energy. It really drained our reserves to carry out these manoeuvres and there were many of them. If we do manage to win, it will certainly feel good, as we really gave it our all throughout this race.”

No damage to report

A big spinnaker torn just before they passed through the Antilles, a mainsail that was slightly damaged in the worst moments of the storm... that is the only damage that Marc and Charles have to report. The boat itself did not experience any damage, even if she is known to be the lightest of the fleet of 60-foot IMOCA boats. With the finish coming up, she truly deserves her nickname of “the jet fighter”. Two years after she was launched, she is in the process of achieving her first major victory.

Transat Jacques Vabre

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