After tacking overnight, the leader of the Barcelona World Race, Paprec-Virbac 2, is now heading towards Gibraltar, the penultimate scoring gate of the race, and the doorway to the Mediterranean Sea.
Entering the Med and finishing off the race can't come soon enough for the race leaders. Sunday marks 85 days at sea and with just over a week left, body and mind, not to mention boat, are getting tired.
"It's funny you should mention this is day 83,"
joked Damian FOXALL (IRL) on Friday afternoon. "I think I'm beginning to know what it feels like to be 83 years old! But if we can hold on to the finish we'll have really achieved something great for ourselves and the team."
This latter stage of the race has been a tough, and at times slow, slog for the leaders as they battle upwind in the Atlantic Ocean. It's hard on the crew and it's hard on the boat as well. And when the wind comes and the speed rises, that brings its own set of problems as FOXALL explained.
"It's nice to see the speedo up but it brings some stress as well. The boat is always on our minds, especially now as we're doing a lot of banging and crashing. It's a bit worrying every time you jump off a wave and land on the other side of it."
Behind them, Hugo Boss has faced much the same conditions. The second placed boat has gained a further 120 miles this week and skippers Alex THOMSON (GBR) and Andrew CAPE (AUS) have been sniffing for an opportunity to get off the track of Paprec-Virbac 2 in the hope of finding a way to close the gap further. But to this point, they haven't found anything tasty enough to grab a hold of. Earlier this week, THOMSON explained the situation like this:
"The fact that we have caught up miles in the last few days means absolutely nothing whatsoever,"
he said, sounding quite philosophical about the situation, rather than frustrated. "[For now] there is nothing we can do. We have the choice of going north or tacking up the African coast, which is about as close to suicide as you can probably get. What you need to do here is sail upwind fast and wait and see what is going to take us into the Mediterranean."
Intense Fight Continues
The battle for the third podium position continues to be hard fought between Temenos II and Mutua Madrileña. The 'elastic band' effect has been in force this week as first one and then the other boat makes a gain. But the net effect for the week has been almost nil, with Mutua Madrileña closing a further four miles over the past seven days. The gap is now just 74 miles, with both boats passing the doldrums this weekend.
"It's a close fought battle and it keeps up a certain tension, which is very motivating indeed,"
wrote Michèle PARET (FRA) from Temenos II. "We're flat out at 200% and aren't easing off the pace."
Temenos II, crossing the scoring gate at Fernando de Noronha at the end of the week, won this stage of the race from Cape Horn to Fernando by just over an hour from Mutua Madrileña. Both boats have made enormous gains - nearly one full day of sailing time - on the leader since Cape Horn. Today, both boats are equal in points on the 'stage points' leaderboard so with just two stages left, and about two more weeks at sea, there is everything to play for between Temenos II and Mutua Madrileña. And neither is willing to back down.
"We have to keep the boat fast so we're constantly adjusting course and trimming. This is almost harder work than going downwind in the South at 20 knots. We're constantly grinding in and out and trimming. Temenos II is going to gain a little more but then after the doldrums a whole new race starts for us,"
was the way Javier SANSÓ (ESP) explained it earlier this week. "It's all or nothing. We have nothing to lose; losing by 40 miles or 400 miles makes no difference...everything is wide open. We'll need a bit of luck, a bit of experience and a bit of strategy."
For Educación sin Fronteras, the finish remains over 4,000 miles - or about three weeks - away. But reached by video conference today, both Albert BARGUÉS (FRA) and Servane ESCOFFIER (FRA) were in good spirits and it was easy to see why. With warm temperatures, a moderate breeze and sunny skies, there isn't much to dislike about being at sea this weekend.
"It's very nice today,"
BARGUÉS agreed. "We're tacking upwind in 20 to 25 knots, some waves, and making good speed. It's a pleasure to sail in conditions like this. We're accustomed to being behind the others since the start. It's not a problem. But it will be a relief to cross the equator - then we'll feel closer to home. For us, it's just a matter of step by step up to Barcelona."
Barcelona World Race - www.barcelonaworldrace.org