Friday 31 December 2010

BWR: The Big Barcelona Test

Barcelona World Race skippers. Image copyright Jean-Marie Liot/DPPI.

by Andi Robertson, Emily Caroe and Maria Bertrand

It will be the biggest and most competitive fleet yet which will start the second edition of the Barcelona World Race at 1300hrs on the final day of 2010.

Planning, preparation, choices big and small, hard training sea miles – which range from the smallest possible qualification distance of 2,800, to the equivalent of the theoretical course mileage, 25,000, duos whose relationships are forged in sailing battles for over a decade alongside teams whose relationship is more of a convenient, short-term marriage... all these variables come under the most intense scrutiny as soon as the start gun goes, potentially to continue round the world for more than 90 days.

Light winds and a relatively benign Mediterranean stretch to the Straits of Gibraltar are expected to add to the early stress, putting the duos under immediate pressure. Potentially small tactical decisions and sail choices, which would otherwise be insignificant, are likely to define the typical gains to be made by the leader or leading group which breaks out into stronger winds of the Atlantic. Meanwhile any teams left behind on the departure from the Mediterranean might spend a long time trying to make good their early deficit.

The exit from and the return into the Mediterranean are just two of the key challenges of this unique race.

Damian Foxall (IRL), who speaks with experience of winning the first Barcelona World Race with Jean-Pierre Dick, and is a veteran of crewed Volvo Round the World races as well as multihull records, is simple in his reminder:

“It’s a long way. It’s three months at sea, and unlike the Vendée Globe you’re going to sea with somebody else. It’s not like the Volvo where you’ve got a larger group of people. You’re going to sea with one other person and that’s probably the most important aspect in terms of the race.”

“On the one hand it’s the biggest attribute you’ve got, your buddy, your co-skipper. And it’s really important to make that relationship work well and to understand what they need, and to maintain a single objective in common that you both agree on and to basically cross the line having achieved that goal.”

“For some it might be winning, for some it might be just finishing the race, but that common objective is probably the single most important thing that the skippers need to agree on before the start.”

Making it work as a duo over the entire duration of the course is fundamental. Just as some of the duos favour an organic approach – relying on developed, sympathetic powers of common sense human communication – others have reached for valued advice from psychologists, just as they have armies of sports scientists, nutritionists and physical trainers looking after their bodies.

That scientific, empirical approach may increasingly prevail, but so too this second edition contains a cross-section of hard bitten veteran skippers whose long experience racing round the world will render making the IMOCA Open 60’s go fast for days on end sheer intuition.Such is the potent cocktail of different factors which will play out around the course that picking a most likely race winner has challenged even the most seasoned observers.

Top picks

Foncia and Virbac-Paprec 3 rank among most top picks. Foncia’s Michel Desjoyeaux (FRA) and Francois Gabart (FRA) have the greatest age difference and have done only a basic mileage together but Desjoyeaux is a formidable force in his own right, while Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA) and Loïck Peyron (FRA) represent considerable aggregate experience and have already won the 2005 Transat Jacques Vabre together. Both are new 2010 boats.

Mixed experience

Jean Le Cam (FRA) and Bruno Garcia (ESP) have sailed few miles together, Garcia has minimal IMOCA Open 60 experience and has never raced in the Southern Ocean but Le Cam’s experience is second to none in this fleet and they have a boat which is now well proven as competitive and relatively reliable in Président, the former Ecover 3.

Time on the water

In terms of hours on the water together in their IMOCA Open 60 and preparation time the Barcelona duo of Alex Pella (ESP) and Pepe Ribes (ESP) have been building up to this for 18 months with their FNOB backed and managed programme for Estrella Damm. Their 2007 boat is not of the latest generation but they know it well and it is well optimised. But in terms of time no one exceeds Dominique Wavre (ESP) and Michéle Paret (ESP) who finished third in the first Barcelona World Race.

An Olympic transition

In April they had not set foot in an IMOCA Open 60 but since then Spain’s double Olympic medallists Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez have been through the most rigorous learning programme armed with Mapfre, formerly the Vendée Globe winning Foncia. They have sailed together for 11 years and possibly only the race’s only real life couple Wavre and Paret know each other better!

Weather: tricky transitions

The Mediterranean looks set to provide its customary tactical challenge for the start and opening few days of the Barcelona World RACE.

At this evening’s weather briefing, meteorologists Marcel Van Triest (NED) and Chris Bedford (USA) compared the European and American weather models, which show marked differences in their forecast.

On the European model a north-westerly breeze of 10-15 knots is forecast for the first few hours of the race, whereas very light airs are showing on the GFS model. “The meteorological situation of the western Mediterranean at this moment is very atypical,” Marcel Van Trieste commented, meteorologist of Barcelona World RACE.

Things are no clearer once they approach the Straits of Gibraltar, with a large low pressure system mid-Atlantic. Looking ahead, if the low pressure system tracks north it could pay for the skippers to hug the coast of Africa as they sail south, whereas if it moves south it could bring with it a south-westerly windshift which would see a more offshore route paying.

In either case, the waters between the Canary Islands and African coast may also feature local effects, with potentially strong sea breezes mid-afternoon as well as land breezes created by the low night-time temperatures of the desert.

Barcelona World Race