Wednesday, 16 February 2011

BWR: Countdown to Cook Straits

* Virbac-Paprec 3 scent land – just 5 miles from New Zealand this afternoon
* Race leaders expected through the Cook Straits Wednesday evening (NZL local time)
* Memorable news for Andy Meiklejohn on Hugo Boss

Virbac Paprec 3 sails towards the Cook Strait in New Zealand. Image copyright Gale Riebig/Virbac Paprec 3.

by Barcelona World Race media

The most dramatic stage of the course is fast approaching for Barcelona World Race leaders Virbac-Paprec 3, as Jean-Pierre Dick and Loick Peyron (FRA) approach the northerly tip of New Zealand’s South Island and prepare to cross the Cook Straits.

Leading the Barcelona World Race by over 540 miles, the short passage through the Cook Straits – which separate the North and South Islands by just 20 miles at their narrowest point – will be something of a victorious homecoming for Virbac-Paprec 3. The latest generation IMOCA 60 was built in New Zealand at the Cookson yard in Auckland.

For skipper Jean-Pierre Dick this will also be the second time he has led the Barcelona World Race through the iconic stage of the course: after doing so in 2007 following 44 days and 32 minutes of racing he went on to win the inaugural double-handed round the world race.

The high pressure system which has lodged itself either side of the South Island has had less effect on the leaders’ progress than anticipated, and the French pair were just 5.6 miles off Farewell Point, making 9.7 knots of boat speed at 1730 (UTC) this afternoon. They are anticipated to pass Wellington around 0800hrs in the morning of Wednesday February 16 (Barcelona time, the equivalent of Wednesday evening in New Zealand which is 12 hours ahead of the Spanish start city).

“It's faster than expected,”wrote Jean-Pierre Dick to race organisers this afternoon. “In six or seven hours we’ll pass Farewell Point, at about 1900hrs (GMT, 2000hrs UTC) and then we have about 90 nautical miles of beating upwind into a north-westerly with lots of tacks which will take us around 12 hours. So that means we’ll be at Wellington around 0700hrs (GMT, 0800hrs UTC) on the 16th, so around 2000hrs local time (we might be on time to be on the news with Claire Chazal!)”

Just how close they were to landfall was evident a few hours later when Jean-Pierre Dick again emailed from just off Farewell Point to say could smell a nearby farm: “No, I’m not dreaming, it really does smell of cows here! In the flesh and blood too! After so many few weeks at sea, it's weird but strangely pleasant.”

Kiwi countdown

New Zealand was looming large for the rest of the fleet this afternoon also, with MAPFRE and Estrella Damm also having to contend with the same high pressure system just west of the South Island. The anticyclone has slowed second-placed MAPFRE’s progress to just 5.5 knots over the course of this afternoon and saw them lose 30 miles to the front runners.

Estrella Damm, around 120 miles back in third, have managed to keep their pace up to over 10 knots so far, but may well run into the same light winds zone. Groupe Bel, over 210 miles behind to the north-west of Estrella Damm, were hopeful that they could avoid the system:
“In front of us we have a large bubble of high pressure which hopefully will shift to the south-east and let us pass. But nothing is less certain. We all have the same weather information and the same software and when we run the computer it tells us to go straight. So we're going straight,”said Kito de Pavant (FRA) today.

However, Groupe Bel have committed to stopping in Wellington for repairs, a pit-stop which has to be of at least 48 hours duration at this stage of the race. The ‘laughing cow’ is expected to arrive in Wellington on Saturday morning, and their shore crew are already in place preparing for as fast a turnaround for the team as possible.

A Valentine’s gift to remember

Andy Meiklejohn on board HUGO BOSS. Image copyright Wouter Verbraak/Alex Thomson Racing.

Andy Meiklejohn, the sole New Zealander in the race, had another reason to celebrate this week. Besides nearing his home country, the Hugo Boss co-skipper revealed that he’d received a special piece of news yesterday:
“I got a Valentine’s Day present yesterday which was from my wife Kirsten. We knew we are due to have another child but it was finding out the sex: it’s a boy – so look out world, little Zach’s got a brother on the way! I’m really happy. We would be happy if it was a girl or a boy, but finding out the surprise at this time in the race is quite poignant given that my family’s down in New Zealand and Australia for a few weeks, so it’s really nice to know this and feel connected to them again. It’s easy to lose the connection when you’re out here so long.”

Rankings at 1400hrs UTC Tuesday 15th February

1 VIRBAC-PAPREC at 11568 miles to finish
2 MAPFRE at 541 miles to leader
3 ESTRELLA DAMM Sailing Team at 662 miles
4 GROUPE BEL at 870 miles
5 RENAULT Z.E at 1318 miles
6 MIRABAUD at 1682 miles
7 NEUTROGENA at 1702 miles
8 HUGO BOSS at 1945 miles
10 FORUM MARITIM CATALA at 3905 miles
12 WE ARE WATER at 4440 miles


Kito de Pavant (FRA), Groupe Bel:

“It is pitch black in the Tasman Sea and the day is grey. There is not much to see. Today we have a transition day. We’ve given up on our downwind sails. It's pretty comfortable, as we are under pilot and advancing well. In front of us we have a large bubble of high pressure which hopefully will shift to the south-east and let us pass. But nothing is less certain. We all have the same weather information and the same software and when we run the computer it tells us to go straight. So we're going straight.

“There is a small gap from Estrella Damm where we lost almost 300 miles in a few days, which is why we're going to make a technical stop. It's hard not to keep pace with our Spanish friends. In any case it opens the door and gives us some options that are a bit different now. We are no longer under the same obligations, in the same winds at the same time. But I'd rather be in our shoes than that of Estralla Damm with the passage of that high pressure ridge that’s going towards them. I think we'll keep a little more wind than them, hopefully.

“We have some little problems that are not serious but could become so. We have a hydro-generator that works very well but the brackets on the transom of the boat should be looked at as two of the four hinges have broken. If we break just one more, we will lose the hydro and without it we will have to use more fuel to run our computers, electronics and watermaker. So it's important to get new hinges and continue the journey.

“The routing tells us we’ll arrive on Saturday in the Cook Strait. But crossing the anticyclone will be complicated. There are still a few uncertainties. The team arrived in Wellington today. They have a lot of things to prepare before our arrival.

“For this first experience of the deep south, I was surprised by the sea which is a very, very short chop. I had imagined the great surges on a very long swell and I haven’t had that, I'm a little disappointed. I hope we will see it in the Pacific, but otherwise it went well. As far as albatrosses, I was also surprised. There are a lot whereas I’d always thought they were solitary birds.”

On board GAES. Image copyright GAES Centros Auditivos.

Dee Caffari (GBR), GAES Centros Auditivos:
“It’s all good really. The conditions are abating really gently, it’s flat water, 15 knots of breeze and it’s just starting to shift, and when we get a bit more of a convincing shift then we’ll gybe, which is very exciting because we’ve been on a port gybe for WEEKS. So we’re actually quite excited about leaning the other way.

“We laugh and joke and say if we can keep the mast up when we gybe then everything’s happy, but obviously everything’s been loaded on one side so there is a tendency for stuff to stretch and all the pressure’s been on one side so it would be nice to give it a rest. But also just to check the mast, how it’s aligned on the other gybe, just for confidence as much as anything. I’m sure everything’s fine.

“It’s unbelievably different in flat water. The noise has reduced, we can live comfortably, it’s easier to take a wee – which is very important when you’re a girl! – it’s just a different way of living. We’ve sponged everything in the boat. And it’s just a little bit of the humidity, the condensation with the cold temperature of the water that makes things damp, but otherwise we’re living in a different world after the last few days and loving it!

“We’re very lucky inside the boat is generally quite dry with the electronics and everything is working fine. It’s just the tendency for everything to be cold and damp makes it a bit miserable, and when the temperature drops at night it makes you feel colder. So it’s nice to have everything dry, the boat just feels cleaner and tidier.

“We celebrated with a cake because Anna passed her second ‘Great Cape’ yesterday, so that was our highlight yesterday.

Andy Meiklejohn (NZL), Hugo Boss:
“We’re just passed the fourth Australian barrier gate, and we’re heading east. We’ve got 14 knots of wind, it’s quite foggy outside and we have a flat sea. Long-term we have a front that’s closing behind us that we’ll be gybing ahead of at some point in the next 12-18 hours. We have Mirabaud and Neutrogena working their way south about 200 miles in front, and we have GAES Centros Auditivos behind us, about 120 miles behind and to the north of us as well, so its setting up to be an interesting little showdown.

“We’re rationing gas just as a precaution because we don’t know how slow the next leg of the course will be. I think most of the boats in the fleet have been rationing their food and making sure that they have enough to last the race. We counted through everything today and are pretty comfortable we’re in a good position there, but the race is taking 10 days longer or 12 days longer than we expected, so you have to just be careful.

“Cooking on the boat is very important for our energy levels, and all the food is freeze dried so we need to heat water. The priority is to make sure we get our 800 calories into us, so for the next couple of weeks we’re just going to concentrate on getting those meals into us and then we can take a bit of a stock of what we’ve got in terms of gas, and maybe we can start having coffees and teas again.

“It’s very satisfying to have overtaken Dee and Anna on GAES. We had a tough start to the race, tough Atlantic leg, just missing a few key weather windows and a few technical problems as well that we’ve managed to overcome. So it’s good to start closing some miles and to finally overtake a boat feels like we’re back in a yacht race.Our next sights are set on Neutrogena directly in front of us and Mirabaud, about 200 miles ahead.

Wouter Verbraak (NED), Hugo Boss:
“The last week we’ve managed to pull out some pretty impressive boats speeds, which has a lot to do with how we’re co-operating on the boat. We want to be creative and always look for perfection to always find a new sail combination that can be the gear for current sea conditions and wind. Andy with his background in skiffs has an excellent feel for boat speed and that combined with putting us in the right position for weather, we’ve been doing quite well I’d say.

“I can still remember when I was 13 – a tiny little boy with no beard then! – following one of the Dutch boats in the Volvo Ocean Race. They had no money, a low budget and slow boat but they always did well, especially in the last leg of the race because they were clever with their weather. So that’s when I decided to study meteorology and do all the sailing I could possibly do to become one of these guys that sails on the ocean races. Now to be able to do this as my job is living a dream and a unique situation. We hope that we can inspire children of today who are 13 who are following the race to do something good with their future.”

In French:

« Cookou » les voilà

* Virbac-Paprec 3 devant la Nouvelle-Zélande empruntera cette nuit le détroit de Cook
* Possible regroupement des poursuivants MAPFRE, Estrella Damm et Groupe Bel
* Derrière, on rêve de la terre et on pense aux réserves de nourriture

On board Central Lechera Asturiana. Image copyright Central Lechera Asturiana.

« Ça va plus vite que prévu. Passage dans 6 à 7 heures à Farewell Point soit 19 heures TU le 15 ensuite, reste 90 milles au louvoyage ce qui fait dans les 12 heures environ au total. On va passer à Wellington le 16 vers 7 heures TU c’est à dire vers 20 heures locales (on pourrait passer au journal de la Claire Chazal locale). Tout cela est approximatif et ne tient pas compte des molles, refus, ado, courant.... ». Voici le mail très télégraphique envoyé par Jean-Pierre Dick à son équipe ce midi. A 16h30, le monocoque bleu n’était plus qu’à 10 milles de la pointe de Farewell, au seuil du canal naturel qui sépare l’île du Nord de celle du Sud.

Ce canal de 120 milles de long se présente comme un grand entonnoir : 100 milles de large à l’entrée et 20 milles au niveau de Wellington. Le détroit de Cook à proprement parler est le tronçon étroit compris entre l’île Stephens et les Caps Campbell et Palliser. Pour retrouver les eaux ouvertes du Pacifique, Virbac-Paprec 3 devra tirer des bords au milieu de ce couloir, dans un fort vent de sud-est (20 à 30 nœuds, rafales à 35) et une mer cassante.

Terre !

Jean-Pierre Dick et Loïck Peyron n’ont plus vu la terre depuis leur pit stop à Recife (Brésil) le 15 janvier. Depuis, leur environnement s’est cantonné en un dégradé de bleus et de gris. Dans quelques heures, ils retrouveront les odeurs familières de la terre, les bruits insolites de la civilisation, les chaudes températures de l’été austral et un spectre chromatique aussi luxuriant que la nature environnante. Un choc pour les sens ! Le long des côtes septentrionales de l’île du Sud, ils longeront aussi de vrais petits coins de paradis : une succession de fjords, d’îles, de baies et de petites plages de sable bordant une eau cristalline où les autochtones passent actuellement leurs vacances d’été. A bord de leur plan VPLP-Verdier mis à l’eau il y a moins 9 mois à Auckland, les deux navigateurs ne feront que passer avec sûrement, une (grosse) pointe d’envie...

La tentation de Wellington

Groupe Bel, lui, a prévu de s’y arrêter. Pas pour faire du tourisme, mais pour réparer ses deux voiles d’avant, les fixations défaillantes de l’hydro-générateur et autres menues bricoles. Une partie de l’équipe technique du bateau rouge est déjà à Wellington et attend les skippers de pied ferme. Ces derniers devraient y amarrer leur 60 pieds dans la journée de samedi. D’ici là, Kito de Pavant et Sébastien Audigane qui se sont décalés légèrement au nord pour traverser l’anticyclone en mer de Tasmanie, espèrent refaire leur retard sur leurs prédécesseurs MAPFRE et Estrella Damm. Un scénario tout à fait plausible car au classement de 15 heures, Iker Martinez et Xabi Fernandez, pris dans les rets de l’anticyclone, avançaient à... 2,8 nœuds !

Jusqu’à présent, les deux compères de Groupe Bel sont les seuls à avoir annoncé un arrêt à Wellington, une escale qui leur coûtera 48 heures. Mais d’autres équipages ont probablement la tentation de les imiter. Au-delà des rêves de terre de Michèle Paret, histoire de quitter un temps l’horizon monochrome, il serait étonnant que d’autres bateaux n’aient pas quelque matériel à réparer. D’autres se questionnent très sérieusement sur leurs stocks en vivres. A bord d’Hugo Boss (8e derrière Neutrogena et Mirabaud), Wouter Verbraak et Andy Meiklejohn ont confié qu’ils rationnaient leurs réserves de gaz, n’hésitant pas à prendre leur café froid ! Sans parler des trois bateaux qui ferment la marche à 4000 milles des leaders. Pour eux, la course risque de traîner en longueur, peut-être au- delà des 110 ou 115 jours de nourriture embarquée. D’autant que les conditions anticycloniques qu’ils traversent actuellement ne sont pas favorables à leur progression vers le but. Au pointage de 15h00, We are Water affichait une vitesse dramatique de 1,2 nœuds !

Classement du 15 février à 15 heures (TU+1) :

1 VIRBAC-PAPREC à 11568,6 milles de l’arrivée
2 MAPFRE à 541,6 milles du leader
3 ESTRELLA DAMM Sailing Team à 662 milles
4 GROUPE BEL à 870,7 milles
5 RENAULT Z.E à 1318,3 milles
6 MIRABAUD à 1682,9 milles
7 NEUTROGENA à 1702 milles
8 HUGO BOSS à 1945,6 milles
9 GAES CENTROS AUDITIVOS à 2103,6 milles
10 FORUM MARITIM CATALA à 3905,2 milles
12 WE ARE WATER à 4440,3 milles

Ils ont dit :

Jean-Pierre Dick, Virbac-Paprec 3, dans un message envoyé cet après-midi et intitulé « Les vaches de Farewell » : « Non, je ne rêve pas , ce sont bien des odeurs de vaches ! Et bien en chair et en os celles-là ! Après quelques semaines en pleine mer, ca fait bizarre mais c'est rudement agréable . Cette sensation de campagne, de terre provenant de Farewell Point m'imprègne alors que je la respire à pleines narines ! Terre , terre , c'est si bon , du lait bien liquide car au diable toutes ces poudres, ces Régilait, ces Nestlé. Voilà la vie terrestre, voilà le terroir ; demain matin au lever du jour, nous reverrons le monde du vert , nous l'avions presque oublié. C'est aussi le nôtre, même si nous nous plaisons en mer , la terre c'est nos racines ...A demain. JP

On board Groupe Bel. Image copyright Groupe Bel.

Kito de Pavant, Groupe Bel : « L’équipe est arrivée aujourd’hui à Wellington. Ils ont pas mal de choses à préparer d’ici notre arrivée. Nous avons quelques petits soucis qui ne sont pas graves mais qui peuvent le devenir. Nous avons un hydro-générateur qui marche très très bien mais dont les fixations sur le tableau arrière du bateau doivent être revues. Deux charnières sur les quatre ont cassé. Si nous en cassons encore une, risquons de perdre les hydro générateurs et sans eux nous n’aurons plus d’énergie pour les ordinateurs, l’électronique et le desalinisateur. Les simulations de route nous annoncent samedi sur le détroit de Cook. Mais traverser l’anticyclone va être compliqué. Il y quand même encore quelques incertitudes. Cela dit, je préfère être là où nous sommes qu’à la place d’Estrella Damm »

Ludovic Aglaor, FMC : « Physiquement ça va car avec la pétole, nous ne nous sommes pas trop fatigués. Moralement ça a un peu baissé hier avec les conditions molles, et puis surtout avec le fait de voir les autres partir devant à plus de 2000 milles, ça fait un petit peu mal. Nous avons embarqué 16 semaines de nourriture. La question des réserves se pose un peu pour tout le monde, c’est très très long. Si ça continue à être mou, ça va être un peu tendu. Nous verrons dans le détroit de Cook ou au Cap Horn si on refait le plein. »

Dee Caffari, Gaes Centros Auditivos : « C’est incroyablement différent à bord, le bruit a diminué, on vit plus confortablement - c’est plus facile d’aller aux toilettes d’ailleurs - ce qui est important quand on est une fille ! Nous avons épongé tout le bateau. Il reste juste un peu d’humidité et de condensation à cause de la température de l’eau très basse. Mais dans l’ensemble, nous vivons dans un autre monde depuis quelques jours et nous apprécions ! C’est agréable d’avoir un bateau plus sec et mieux rangé. Nous avons fêté ça avec un gâteau, car Anna a passé hier son deuxième « cap majeur ». Cela a été notre petit moment de bonheur de la journée ! »

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