Choices and challenges

After more than 24 hours at sea in conditions which have progressively eased off for the Route du Rhum-La Banque Postale skippers, already many of the class leaders are hooked firmly into their strategic plays which could already dictate the outcome of their race.

The key choice, especially for the Ultime class giants and the IMOCA classes is whether to make south with more favourable breezes while they last, to try and deal with the expanding Azores high pressure system, to mark time on an average course and see how the models change with time, or to stay north closer to the rhumb line course.

The big move has been that of Franck Cammas on the giant Groupama 3, who has chosen to try and break on through the eastern side of the high pressure as it spreads eastwards to the Portuguese coast. The Jules Verne record holding skipper had already dealt with the Bay of Biscay by afternoon today and when he was contacted by the Route du Rhum- La Banque Postale radio vacations he confirmed that he was already close in to Cape Finisterre. Indeed by late afternoon Groupama 3, lying in third place, was 33 miles SW of the famous point, having passed only 13 miles off. Making just over 22 knots in 12 knots of NW’ly breeze, Francis Joyon on Idec and Yvann Guichard on the course record holding Gitana XI were lining up for the same strategy, with Idec 65 miles NW of Groupama.

The middle course of Thomas Coville on Sodebo, who has lead consistenly through the first classifications, still keeps him in the lead with a margin of more than 45 miles on Sidney Gavignet on Oman Air Majan. Gavignet is set for the more northerly strategy, tacking back to the NW around midday as the wind headed, diverging sharply with Cammas’ who believes he has the speed and power to get south quick enough down the eastern fringe of the course.

A smart passage through Ushant before banking southerly miles, profiting from the more favourable wind direction has been the key to Kito de Pavant’s early lead in the IMOCA Open 60 class on Groupe Bel. He confirmed today on the live radio call that his lead may prove transitory, tracking 20 miles south of second place Roland Jourdain on Veolia Environnement, but while Bel was consolidating slighty, converging with the tracks of his rivals astern and to his NW, Michel Desjoyeaux on Foncia was on a lone march, heading more south and more east, inshore of Bel.  Transat Jacques Vabre winner Marc Guillemot on Safran admitted that his first day has been tough, spending a lot of time on the helm, whilst trying to deal with an unspecified technical issue, one which he and his technical team are reported as noticing just in the pre-start period.

The IMOCA Open 60’s talented young rookie, 29 year old Christopher Pratt on the Finot Conq designed DCNS 1000 was pleased to be firmly in the mix through these early stages, running third for much of the day and dicing with the on form Armel Le Cléac’H, double winner of the key Figaro races this season, who had moved up to third on BritAir, the very similar Finot-Conq design, though BritAir was first to tack NW this afternoon.

So far the hot Class 40 fleet has gone very much to form with many of the favourites taking a spell at or near the front of a very competitive fleet. Their strategic options are very similar and clearly choices were being assimilated, but Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm on Cheminées Poujoulat has been setting an electric pace on the Rogers design, with a jump of around six miles ahead of double Mini winner Thomas Ruyant on Destination Dunkerque and Nicolas Troussel on Credit Mutuel de Bretagne.
Best of the two British skippers remains Richard Tolkien in 20th on the Humphreys designed ICAP Orca, with Pete Goss on DMS in 29th.

Quotes:

Thomas Coville – Sodebo (ULTIMES Class): « We are quick, making 20 knots with 10-11 knots of wind. Ultimately just now there is not really very great difference in speed between is, and the game is quite open, pleasingly competitive.
Last night the wind got up with a swell and it was not easy to push hard without just losing speed. I don’t have that much wind, and what I have is dropping slowly. The sea is a bit messy, a leftover sea. But it is does let me tidy up a little. I even got some lunch and a bit of a sleep, the chance to rest before pressing on into conditions which will not be easy. My routing at the moment allows be the options, the chance to wait and choose at the last moment. When I look at the files and the situation to the south, you can’t really accept that is the way to go. And that’s why I am here. I’m making some south and some west at the same time, and I feel like I am quite well positioned for the next anticyclone. »

Sidney Gavignet – Oman Air Majan (ULTIMES Class): « The start was fantastic, as much for us as for the people who were watching.  It was a bit bumpy but we held on OK. And now we are back to some calmer stuff, even if it still slams a little. Oman Air Majan is a powerful beast. I am happy but focused and pushing hard. I can say that I have a speed deficit, I saw it clearly when we were in a pack. I will really see how it pans out in 3-4 days what transpires given the options that everyone takes. I am good, on form and I will be able to rest a little. I have chosen the strategy along with my router Marcel Van Triest on which a lot rests. I must settle to be just the pilot. And I really trust him. I make rest a priority. I have the weather but I communicate with him and things are clearer. It am happy with this option. Accepting that the dice are thrown now, there is nothing more to do just now than push on. What is impressive are the speeds that you can hold some of the times. But when the swell was big I could not sleep because it was stressing and especially impossible to sleep. »

Franck Cammas – Groupama (ULTIMES Class): « I’m making a good course here, trying to thread myself down the east side of the anticyclone, and so it’s been important to really push since the start and so south immediately from Ushant. It is tight, but there should be enough to get through, but it is important not to be caught by the edge of the ridge, so the next hours are critical. If I can get through that bit then I should be able to keep wind and keep going. I have an idea that both Idec and Gitana are following the same strategy, but the others really don’t have much chance of coming this way. »

Kito de Pavant – Groupe Bel (IMOCA):  « I have passed the first 24 hours with more than I expected, and it’s flown in. I had some little scares under kite when the breeze started to head and I did not pass far from rocks at 20kts. At the moment I am just taking all the breeze I can get on this side of the anticyclone, to benefit from it while I can and get this wind to get south because the direction is better. We will find ourselves in the same system and the benefit will even out.
We know the boats are all pretty close in performance and on them we have skippers who can all get across the Atlantic well solo, so it will be pretty competitive. You really don’t want to start off in the red, but you need to keep pushing because the first day was complicated. I kept the spinnaker up in 25 knots for a while which is not easy in these boats.
We will all work down to the top of the anticyclone and will work the fringes for three days. Or you’ll do lots of miles in the north while not passing far from the Azores. And on top of all that the active lows in the very south will break up the trade winds. »

Roland Jourdain – Veolia Envirnonnement (IMOCA): « My ranking makes me happy knowing that I was late on the start line because I had a spinnaker jam. It is always special the first night at sea. Last night I was very close to some of the others, but now I compare my course with the routings and the winds. It is interesting to see others’ speeds, to able to measure our relative speeds. But not in strategy, if you just follow the strategy of others then it is not good for your morale. »

Christopher Pratt – DCNS 1000 (IMOCA): « It was a good first night at the head of the fleet along with Armel under spinnaker. The fleet had kind of left us after the start and that was hard. The equation has to be balanced, certain boats have already slipped south, and we’ll have to see if that pays. I am about where I want to be tactically, though I am disappointed that I have lost touch with them a little at the end if the night.
But for a first race it has started well, I hope that I can match them, but from here it is complex, with difficult weather and strong winds. There is lots on. »