Following two excursions into the pit lane in Wellington, the entire Barcelona World Race fleet is at sea as the week concludes and by tomorrow, all will be clear of Cook Strait and en route to Cape Horn.
At the head of the fleet, Paprec-Virbac 2 didn't get to enjoy too much time in the relative comfort of the balmy latitude of New Zealand. No sooner had Jean-Pierre DICK (FRA) and Damian FOXALL (IRL) left New Zealand in their wake than they were diving back down to the extreme southern latitudes, in search of the wind that will bring them to Cape Horn in first place. But it's cold, wet and hard slogging as they go - but that's life at 55-degrees south latitude.
"The humidity, the cold water, the wind shifting, taking the reef and reducing the sail, sea and sky gray...that's today's programme on board,"
DICK wrote on Saturday. "Plus, it's very uncomfortable, the boat is bouncing a lot and sailing fast towards Cape Horn. Now less than 1,600 miles [1,300 as of Sunday afternoon] for a passage around 9 January, probably."
To add insult to injury, the weekend has brought weak headwinds to Paprec-Virbac 2; not what one would expect at that latitude. But the forecast improves soon. Behind them, despite putting in every effort, Hugo Boss can count up a gain of just 25 miles for the week. After making good progress early in the week, Hugo Boss is now blocked by a weak ridge of high pressure that is travelling in front of them. Skippers Alex THOMSON (GBR) and Andrew CAPE (AUS) can't break through it, and for now, must content themselves with a slower journey to Cape Horn than they would prefer.
"The Southern Ocean is not living up to it's name for our leg to the famous Cape Horn and the weather forecast does not show it getting much better,"
were the words of a resigned THOMSON on Saturday. "The complex weather situation ahead of us is changing hourly but generally the trend is the same; the ridge of high pressure that passed over us yesterday will now stay just ahead acting as a block and not allowing us to sail with any speed. The upside is that it does not look like we will be heading for any icebergs in the near future and both Capey and I are very happy about that."
Hugo Boss can afford to focus exclusively on chasing down Paprec-Virbac 2 as both boats behind - Temenos II and Mutua Madrileña - pulled into the pit lane in Wellington to resolve various issues before rejoining the race. Temenos II perhaps had the more serious issue heading in to port, with corrosion visible on the keel from inside the boat. The problem meant that Dominique WAVRE (SUI) and Michèle PARET (FRA) were nursing the boat along the final thousand miles or so to Wellington. And on arrival, both skippers feared the worst; that their race would be over.
"We're dying to find out whether or not we can head back out into the race,"
wrote PARET on the approach to New Zealand. "In the meantime we're avoiding thinking about it too much. One thing for sure is that we're very, very keen to continue and we're crossing our fingers that we can do just that."
Fortunately, the experts who examined the keel decided the corrosion was superficial rather than structural. After the area was ground back and repainted, the boat was ready go and Temenos II re-started the race after just the minimum stop of 48 hours.
"The stopover in Wellington could have sounded our retirement as we're all too aware,"
said a relieved PARET once Temenos II was at sea again. "What a relief to learn that this won't be the case. Today we are happy to have been able to get control of the sheets again. Temenos II has been well looked after with its war wounds and we're so happy to go."
The Temenos team was fortunate in that the boat immediately chasing them on the leaderboard, Mutua Madrileña, made a last minute decision to pull in at Wellington as well. Their problem was a keel ram, along with a handful of less urgent issues, but each was attended to nonetheless. Mutua Madrileña rejoined the race after the minimum 48 hours and immediately set about chasing down Temenos II. It didn't take skipper Javier SANSÓ (ESP) long to get back into 'race mode', even if they sailed 'cautiously' for the first day back at sea.
"We know we left with the keel 100 per cent, but when you work on so many things, some stupid thing could be left behind. But now, after 24 hours, everything seems to be 100 per cent. We're back into racing mode and it's like Wellington never happened,"
he said today. "Yesterday we were a bit lost, a bit tired. But the good progression against Temenos II is good for morale for both Pachi and me. Now, we have to keep this pace and play the weather well and maybe we arrive at Cape Horn ahead of them."
Finally, Servane ESCOFFIER (FRA) and Albert BARGUÉS (FRA) on Educación sin Fronteras have perhaps had the most frustrating week of all the teams. Last week, they were our 'performer of the week' for their great effort in the Southern Ocean to reel in miles on the boats ahead. But the last three days have been horrible for Educación sin Fronteras who have been all but becalmed on the final approach to Cook Strait. Their 'distance made good' over the last 24 hours is just 133 miles, although now, on Sunday afternoon, as they enter Cook Strait, they are enjoying better speeds. Most significantly, Educación sin Fronteras appears to be determined to join race leader Paprec-Virbac 2 as the only boats not to stop.
"We are not going to stop because we don't really need it and it would be great to think that we have managed to finish the race without a pit-stop,"
said ESCOFFIER today. "We are half way around the world now, it's a symbolic distance from home now. We are happy with our position, even if Mutua Madrileña is now 300 miles in front of us after having been only 192 miles ahead just a day ago."
Barcelona World Race - www.barcelonaworldrace.org