Catch a falling star

Enjoying the lead of the Barcelona World Race since Friday afternoon, Estrella Damm duo Alex Pella (ESP) and Pepe Ribes (ESP) are set for a long night and long day of frustration as they try to find a way through over 250 miles of very unstable, asthmatic light winds.

The Barcelona duo have enjoyed their relatively easy days at the top of the fleet, last night appearing live from the boat on one of Spain’s most-watched late evening TV programmes ‘Buenafuente’ and have also done all they can to prepare mentally and physically for this critical phase of this long leg down the Atlantic to Gough Island.

This afternoon Pella and Ribes had 1,466 miles to sail to the key way-point while Michel Desjoyeaux (FRA) and François Gabart (FRA), barrelling down the Brazilian coast on Foncia, at the latitude of Rio de Janeiro, between four and six knots quicker had 1,788 miles to Gough Island.

The lonely island, which will effectively act as watch-keeper for the Barcelona World Race fleet before the gateway to the Southern Ocean, is a dependency of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena. It has a significant problem in being overrun by giant carnivorous mice which eat young seabirds, threatening the future of the Tristan Albatrossand the Atlantic Petrelto extinction.

The island is largely uninhabited other than a meteorological team from the South African Meteorological Bureau – who monitor the hostile South Atlantic low pressure systems as they approach South Africa and scientific researchers.

Routing predictions still suggest there is little to choose between the pathfinder’s direct passage through the jungle of unstable weather of Estrella Damm, and the fast route west down the Brazilian coast. The ETA for the first boat has advanced to around Sunday morning as the Saint Helena high pressure system takes on an increasingly ordered shape.

Both Foncia’s young co-skipper Gabart, and Estrella Damm are now into territory which is new to them. The furthest south that Gabart had previously raced was to Puerto Limon Costa Rica in the 2009 Transat Jacques Vabre, and Pella to Salvador Bahia in two Mini Transat races. They are just two of the seven skippers who are competing in their first round the world race.

While the Foncia duo’s main rivals in the west, Virbac-Paprec 3, have been in ‘ghost’ mode effectively since last night – since they chose not to have their positions published from the 0400hrs UTC ranking this morning – Gabart wondered aloud on this morning radio conference when the best time to use the invisible mode should be. For sure the ability to hide the timing of the dive south after the Atlantic Gate would be an attractive proposition.

Jean-Pierre Dick(FRA) and Loïck Peyron’s (FRA) decision to play their leg ‘joker’ now might either suggest a sudden change in strategy, or perhaps even simply taking the chance to call the bluff of their race rivals who have effectively been their shadow since the two boats went on a ship side by side in Martinique mid November.

But the catch up on the leaders continues. Kito de Pavant (FRA) and Sebastien Audigane (FRA) on Groupe Bel have moved to within 97 miles of Estrella Damm. Dominique Wavre (SUI) and Michèle Paret (FRA) remain the quickest of the top three with their tidy slightly westerly routing, while the losses sustained by MAPFRE, whose middle course seems to have left them with an extremely difficult short term future in a more sustained, more complex weather pattern.

Dee Caffari(GBR) and Anna Corbella (ESP) have had a good 36 hours on GAES Centros Auditivos, making up two places on the rankings to lie in seventh, now computed to be just seven miles behind the German-American duo Boris Herrmann (GER) and Ryan Breymaier (USA) on Neutrogena.

Francois Gabart, (FRA) Foncia:

“If we have big gaps with the other boats then that is down to the meteo and the routing, but we think we have made a good choice.

“This morning it is going very well. The wind is actually better than forecasted. The boat is surfing well and we are very happy with what the boat is doing. We are under a minimum of pressure but we will soon have many manoeuvres and changes of sails to do.

“We are going to prepare for this, and for the conditions which will be much stronger in future days. Our route will take us east in the next few days, maybe in two days.

“We don’t watch the rankings. Every second we sail I am beating my personal record of racing in the south, because previously I had only been in the Caribbean. But I think I will beat many of my records in the next month and a half.

“The weather conditions here are very nice, bare feet and shorts. We take advantage when the wind is down, it is really hot. The sails make a good shade.

“We eat very well but are not building up fat for the ‘winter’! We have to wait until the night to eat chocolate which I love, because it is too hot and melts in the day!”

Toño Piris (ESP), Renault ZE Sailing Team:

“Last night was quite busy with lots of squalls, changes of wind intensity and direction which meant we had to work much more. Now we have an amazing day, flat sea with a swell of 1 meter approx, good temperatures and we are sailing almost upwind with a genoa and full main.

“In the group where we are the boats are positioned like a Spanish fan, let’s see who can get better angles. We are going to sail parallel to each other quite a lot, so I don’t think there will be a lot of differences.

“Everyday Pachi and I we have a meeting where we study the weather and what our more direct rivals are doing and we think that tomorrow can be a very important day.

“ Honestly if there are boats on a ghost mode it doesn’t bother us a lot, especially if they are the boats in the front of the pack since the distance to them is still quite big and the weather is still quite different. If it happened with a boat which is closer to us then it would be much more interesting.

“Early tomorrow morning we expect to stop for a bit. It will be a very tricky day where the wind can go down to 5 knots, but well, you never know, the reality could be another one. Anyway we need to look for the clouds because if one boat manages to start walking in the calms then they can jump better to the next patch of wind. Let’s see if we are lucky.

“The fleet is quite compacted so I think we’ll get to the Gough gate close to each other, maximum 3 days of difference between the 1st one and the last one. That will make the race much more exciting in the south.

“Today we have proper food, not freezedried. We’ll eat lentils! I don’t think we’ve lost much weight, maximum a quarter of a kilo.

“In six days we will have to start organizing ourselves and the boat to get to the Big South, especially clothing and heavy sails, we will need to have everything handy and make a good check of the boat.”

Jaume Mumbrú (ESP) We Are Water:

“We have really good sailing conditions. We are going upwind with an easy sea and 15 knots of wind. We are sailing with the main with 1 reef and the solent. We have a good rhythm and the passed through the Doldrums. Even if they were difficult, we managed to find the right door in and out.

“I’ve sailed down to the 13ºS, to Salvador de Bahia, with the mini, but never farther south. We are well, happy, recovering form the efforts from the last few days but still happy to push a bit more.

“The course is so long that we have the feeling that the race just started. It’s amazing to see the boats ahead and their options. The rhythm in the south will be much stronger, they sail quicker and they are very good.

“The boats is comfortable and is doing well. We lost an important sail but we try not to lose contact with the fleet. But it works much better when we have around 25 knots.

“The watches are going well, we change every 3 hours and we are on perfect race mode. With stronger winds I’m sure we’ll need to change a bit the system.”

Cali Sanmartí (ESP) We Are Water:

“We’ve been now sailing upwind on the same course for 2 days and always sweaty and wet.

“With the watermaker we usually do 7 litres of water per day. This is the smallest watermaker in the market but that’s enough for a day and a half aprox. We drink between 5 and 6 litres of water between both of us and we use the first litre (which has still got quite a bit of salt) to cook. Through the doldrums we did a lot of hand steering so we wouldn’t lose speed.”

Standings at Tuesday 18 January at 1400hrs UTC

1 ESTRELLA DAMM Sailing Team at 20693 miles from the finish

2 GROUPE BEL at 95 miles from the leader

3 MIRABAUD at 153 miles

4 MAPFRE at 176 miles

5 VIRBAC-PAPREC 3 in ghost mode

6 NEUTROGENA at 253 miles

7 GAES CENTROS AUDITIVOS at 260 miles

8 RENAULT Z.E at 275 miles

9 FONCIA at 336 miles

10 HUGO BOSS at 395 miles

11 CENTRAL LECHERA ASTURIANA at 421 miles

12 WE ARE WATER at 502 miles

13 FORUM MARITIM CATALA at 623 miles

RTD PRESIDENT