Race leaders Hugo Boss seemed assured of a new record time for the opening miles of the non-stop Barcelona World Race, the 538 miles from Barcelona to Gibraltar. Alex Thomson (GBR) and Pepe Ribes (ESP) on Hugo Boss were set to pass the point of Tarifa (5deg37W) at around 1800hrs UTC (2 January) which would see them break the 2011 record of 3 days 7 hours by about one day.
Having taken the lead yesterday morning, Hugo Boss has extended their advantage slightly. They profited from the most northerly route of the leading boats before settling into the intense routine of trying to cover their rivals, at least until they break into the Atlantic and the trade winds where their superior speed potential should give them more confidence to sail a routing for speed rather than concerning themselves with their rivals.
Speaking for the first time this race, Alex Thomson said this morning that their second night at sea allowed them only snatched, brief catnaps broken by the need to gybe to stay in the best corridor of wind as they transitioned out of the fickle breezes of the Alboran Sea.
“We haven’t been able to sleep for very long, but we’ve had quite a few little naps. But the focus more than anything is just to be working as hard as we can and making as many miles as we can. We both feel pretty good to be hone st, and obviously being at the front helps,” Thomson said.
And of the prospect of a first record of the race, Thomson added: “That would be great, that would be fantastic. I think both Pepe and I were both worried that we might be wallowing out here for three or four days, like it has been before, but it seems to be fairly quick so far and we’ll be delighted if we can get there and get a record. At the moment it’s looking round about just over two days – two days three hours or something like that.”
Just over 13 miles behind them, Neutrogena – Guillermo Altadill (ESP) and Jose Muñoz (CHI), team-mates from Thomson’s 5 Degrees West racing stable – this morning moved up into second place, also opting for a track closer to the Spanish coastline. Cheminées Poujoulat is now lying in third, around 12 miles south of Neutrogena, with GAES Centros Auditivos a further 11 miles to the south-east. Both the third and fourth placed duos were making a more SW’ly course, towards the Algerian and Morroccan coast where they believed there will be more wind pressure.
From Cheminées PoujoulatBernard Stamm told today’s conference call: “We have shifted south compared to Neutrogena and Hugo Boss. We want to get a little more pressure. We’ll see what happens.
“We’re not yet into the routine of a round the world race. We did not sleep much, you start to nap, but we’ll really get into our routine when we get out of the Mediterranean. It looks like we should get to Gibraltar before we’re becalmed, but you still have to cross your fingers. We are really keeping a close watch to see that we don’t drift into an area of lighter winds.”
Renault Captur are in fifth, around 80 miles to the east of the leaders. They reported this morning: “We have very light winds in the Alboran Sea which have taken us hostage, whi le the boat in front has escaped – such is life in the Mediterranean.”
One Planet One Ocean Pharmaton in sixth are currently taking a central route across the Alboran Sea, with We Are Water opting to follow the leaders to the north. Nandor Fa (HUN) and Conrad Colman (NZL) in eighth place are also experiencing frustrating conditions. Colman confirmed this afternoon that their first 48 hours racing for the very first time on Spirit of Hungary have been extremely tough. After setting out necessarily conservative in their sail choices – they had never even set a spinnaker together before the start gun sounded, they have been left behind a little bit as light, contrary winds conspire against them, in what the youngest skipper in the race, the 31 years old Kiwi-American described as a ‘house of horrors’.
“We were a little conservative in our sail choice the first night and as a result struggled to keep the same course and speed as the others. This lead us to be caught in the light winds behind Ibiza with We are Water, but were again slow adding bigger sails and have been caught by a ridge of high pressure.
“We are now in the axis of the ridge and it’s a house of horrors with the wind turning from North to East to South and back again. Every sail change or tack gives renewed hope that a change will stick but it’s not long before the inevitable shift comes again and we need to start all over again.
“It’s a long race and I hope we’ll have opportunities to catch up later. That’s the only thought I can hang onto now! Fingers crossed for the next few hours.”
The eight teams are still largely in high tempo ‘inshore’ race mode, after a busy night for the leaders with frequent gybing, and only occasional minutes of sleep to recover. For the leaders the question is whether to focus on covering those boats which have split to the south, o r extending away into the open ocean section of the Atlantic. The ‘rich get richer’ scenario is one which will satisfy Thomson and his Barcelona based co-skipper Ribes. Pre-start Thomson affirmed several times that one of his concerns was not performing on the first stage and being forced to play catch up because of a tactical error. Asked if he saw their advantage increasing imminently:
“Well that’s what the weather forecast says but we’ll have to wait and see whether it actually happens or not. I’m sure it will once we get to the Straits, I’m sure there will be wind and there will probably be a fair amount of wind after we’re through the Straits. It would be nice to see the wind increasing like the GRIB files say it should do sooner rather than later.”
For the skippers the next challenge is to pass through the Straits themselves – less than 8 nautical miles wide at its narrowest point, this confluence between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic will demand careful navigation by the 16 skippers. Wind conditions on either side of the natural boundary tend to be markedly different, and as the Barcelona World Race leaders pass through the Straits this afternoon they once again look set to experience a dramatic shift in conditions, from 10-15 knot easterlies, to 25-30 knot easterlies.
Currents in this narrow funnel of water are also significant. There is a baseline contrary east-going surface current of water flowing from the Atlantic into the Mediterranean, of 2-3 knots. This can be accelerated by up to 4 knots by the tidal flow, so timing may have a huge impact on the speed of progress through the Straits. The pattern is complicated further by westward counter-currents, especially around headlands on either shore.
The skippers’ route will also be heavily influenced by the exceptionally busy shipping lanes which govern traffic into and out of the Med, with strictly enforced exclusion zones. The skippers may only sail across shipping lanes perpendicular – or as close to perpendicular as the wind direction allows – to the direction of traffic.
Ranking at 14:00 UTC Friday 2nd January 2015
1 Hugo Boss (A Thomson – Ribes P)
2 Neutrogena (G Altadill – Muñoz J)
3 Cheminées Poujoulat (B Stamm – J Le Cam)
4 GAES Centros Auditivos (A Corbella – G Marino)
5 Renault Captur (J Riechers – S Audigane)
6 One Planet One Ocean & Pharmaton (A Gelabert – Costa D)
7 We Are Water (B Garcia – Garcia W)
8 Spirit of Hungary (N F – C Colman)