The ORMA Class race has become more and more a technical race, as with just five boats left, the skippers of each are all reporting various problems on board left over from the Biscay storm which still need fixing. After the morning pitstop and subsequent capsize of Groupama-2 in a squall on Thursday night off the Canaries, on Friday the new race leader Pascal BIDÉGORRY (FRA) and Lionel LEMONCHOIS (FRA) on Banque Populaire announced their intended pitstop at the Cape Verde islands, on the Isle of Sal, to repair their central rudder casing. Banque Populaire suffered relatively little in the cold front which decimated four other multihulls, however they did not come through unscathed. The damaged casing fixes between the rudder and the central hull, and allows the rudder to swing upwards if it hits something. With around 75 miles lead over Michel DESJOYEAUX (FRA) and Hugues DESTREMAU (FRA) on Géant on their track behind, they have about a three hour gap at the 24 knot average boat speed these trimarans are maintaining in the trade winds. Will it be enough to make the repair and set off before Géant or even Gitana 11 overtakes? There are 370 miles to sail before they reach the islands, so nearly a day before the leaders have to pull over for this repair.
Italians Giovanni SOLDINI and Vittorio MALINGRI on TIM Progetto Italia also have not yet been able to attend to their damaged rudder since the cold front, and are for the time being trying to make the most of the stronger breeze close to the African coast, just as Gitana 11 with Fred LE PEUTREC (FRA) and Yann GUICHARD (FRA) has been. Their fast sailing angle and heading closer to the direct route has propelled the trimaran into second from fourth in the latest positions.
There have certainly been winners and losers over the tactical gybing battle round the Canary Islands in the eleven strong IMOCA Open 60 fleet with now four clear pairs of boats in their own match races. Clearly the westerly option offshore taken by leaders Jean-Pierre DICK (FRA) and Loïck PEYRON (FRA) on Virbac-Paprec and Roland JOURDAIN (FRA) and Ellen MACARTHUR (GBR) on Sill et Veolia has paid double dividends in terms of weather and course made good, as during the day these two Farr and Lombard design boats have taken out another 20 miles or more in just half a day on their nearest rivals Jean LE CAM (FRA) and Kito DE PAVANT (FRA) on Bonduelle and Mike GOLDING (GBR) and Dominique WAVRE (SUI) on Ecover. That means a whole two knots faster on average. This advantage has been created mainly from clever tactics on the race course and not boat speed as Sill and Bonduelle are sisterships and with the same breeze should be matched for speed.
However, saying that, the Farr design is outwitting Lombard's Sill et Veolia slowly but surely, gaining a handful of miles each position report, in their intense match race at the head of the fleet with perfect northeast Trade wind conditions. Recently crowned ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year MACARTHUR reported yesterday that they experienced a crash-gybe in the dark in a 38 knot squall, indicating how gusty the conditions still are, 'Last night things were getting a bit dodgy with the spinnaker. We changed to the gennaker to be a bit safer, though we didn't expect what happened, which was a crash gybe under pilot in a 38 knots squall. Poor Sill et Veolia was on her side completely. The cabin seemed much wider as I climbed vertically up the floor to get out. We spent 20 minutes trying to get her sorted, and did. Miraculously we did not break anything.'
Their trajectory to just to the west of the direct route will see them pass the Cape Verde islands offshore as well, whereas the chasing pack are possibly going to have to pass through them. This will surely throw up the same problems these following boats had at the Canaries - turbulent winds around the land mass, gusts and calm patches alike. Will this be a question now of the rich getting richer..?
Another clear winner of the second generation pack is Brian THOMPSON (GBR) and Will OXLEY (AUS) on Skandia. Australian skipper, OXLEY penned his joy at passing Pro-Form round the Canaries, 'Another big night sailing under kite, as low as we possibly could, has seen us clear La Palma, the western island of the Canaries whilst Pro-Form has had to gybe. This has given us the break we needed on them and so we have now gybed to consolidate that lead and to try to 'shut the door'. The other boats ahead are VERY fast but we will continue to look for passing lanes before the finish.' Result, THOMPSON and OXLEY are back up to fifth 40m ahead of Pro-Form and tailing the new generation 60 footers by only 34 odd miles.
The fierce battle between third placed Bonduelle and Ecover in fourth, just over ten miles apart and now repositioned to the west of the direct route behind the leaders, saw them lose out badly to Virbac and Sill, as they now have an 80m and growing deficit to make up. This was caused by having to sail through the Madeira islands and gybe close to the Canaries to pass to the west. So, unlike the leaders, they have endured more turbulence thrown up by the height of the land masses around them, but also a particularly difficult sea state as GOLDING reported early yesterday, 'It's been very rough. We went within three miles of where Groupama was capsized and unfortunately, we didn't know that at the time. It was very rough conditions there, very short waves, very dangerous waves.' With 2,500 miles to go, there will be opportunity enough to make up that deficit with the Doldrums yet to come.
Anne LIARDET (FRA) and Miranda MERRON (GBR) on Roxy have been clocking some of the highest boat speeds in the class back in their seventh position as they open up their Open 60 to see what she's got. They are keeping ahead of UUDS and both boats have just gybed onto starboard to pass the Canaries to the west. Walter ANTUNES (BRA) and Raphaël COLDEFY (FRA) on Brazilian Open 60 Galileo reported in that they are leaving Vigo imminently to rejoin the race after a 60fr repair job on their goose-neck handled entirely by the ever capable Coldefy, and so should soon be homeward bound.
Both Crepes Whaou ! and Gryphon Solo remain solid leaders of the Open 50 Multi and Monohull Class 2 fleets after the unfortunate abandon of second place Open 50 multihull Aganthe Ingenierie overnight after dismasting. Joe HARRIS (USA) and Josh HALL (GBR) on their ex-Tommy Hilfiger Open 50 have clocked some incredible boat speeds to make an Open 60 skipper proud, and are now on starboard tack coming back over to the direct route below Madeira. Second placed Servane ESCOFFIER (FRA) and Bertrand DE BROC (FRA) on Vedettes de Bréhat are matching them well enough for speed and routing, despite a 60m deficit, and so the Anglo-British pair up front will not be resting on their laurels with 3,050m of ocean still to cross.
The northeast trades 25-30 knots is well established over the zone the 60 foot monohulls and multihulls are racing across. These winds will carry the monohulls to the Doldrums and at least to the Cape Verde Islands for the multis. So there will be no rest for the teams as this boat speed battle maintains a high pace still. The Open 50 multi and monohulls, apart from leader Crepes Whaou !, should have come out of the high pressure system yesterday to then find the trade winds as well.
The Multihulls will be working out their strategy for the Cape Verde Islands. Some gybe to get out of the turbulent air caused by the Canary Islands, which loses miles compared to an offshore route to the west like Géant. The trades are likely to rotate gradually to the east northeast.
For the monohulls, the 25-30 knot north easterlies will propel them towards the Doldrums. The skippers will be concentrating on boat speed for the time being as it is still too early to predict the Doldrums activity, which changes rapidly. In the same weather, it seems that Virbac-Paprec has the edge on Sill et Veolia in the speed stakes.
For the mono and multi 50 footers, they are entering the trades one by one. But they must not be left behind as a new depression is forming on Monday betwen Spain and the Canaries, which will disturb the northeast flow of the trade winds.
Loick PEYRON (Virbac-Paprec): 'We're going hell for leather, it's pretty humid out here now, the speed we're going is simply impressive, I'm loving this race just as much on a monohull. Our boat speed and tactics are strong, and it's a great match race right now with Sill et Veolia, we've been working hard to get round the Azores High.'
Miranda MERRON (Roxy): 'We are again wearing full foul weather gear, as the boat occasionally ploughs into the wave in front, sometimes managing to get water all the way to the back. It isn't really possible to leave the helm, so we have a rope led from the cockpit, which the person in the bunk wraps around their wrist. You pull gently on the rope, and the other person obliges by getting up to go on watch/ help with sail change etc.'
Walter ANTUNES (Galileo): 'We are finally off after 60 hours of intense work. The resin seems to be properly cured in our repair and we intend to treat the boom 'like a baby' all the way to Brazil, non-stop! What a challenge. No shore team, so we are actually going to get some rest racing for next couple of days. Racing is never that hard, what is really difficult is getting to the starting line, and as we painfully discovered, staying in the course... Well, let's hope our fortunes change for the next couple of weeks and that we can finally get HOME!'
Kip STONE (Artforms): 'We're making the most of this voyage, learning what we can in the spirit of adventure, even if we are very far behind, and have sailed an extra 300 miles, we're doing our best. True, we were very disappointed at first but this race is more than just about winning, getting to the start line is a huge accomplishment in itself, so now to get to the finish will be a huge achievement. Right now, it's wet, fast and fun. We've got 20-25 knots and our speed over ground is ten knots. Merf is helming with a big smile on his face, we're enjoying the opportunity to participate in this race and carry on - we'll be back in 2007!'
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