by Matthew Thomas
Ocean racing is never easy as you’re completely dependent on the weather information you can download and based on it, you have to make decision. Looking at the data, you have to look at both the immediate trends as well as the long term trends, all the while looking outside at your local weather and come up with a game plan that will give you a long term advantage over your competitors.
In the short term, this might be detrimental to your placing and while it’s easy to rationalise this, it’s very hard whenever you make a decision that costs you miles and you’re faced with realising that you’ve let someone slip past you.
The ‘Two Pips’ and ‘SNBSM Espoir Compétition’ both gybed to the west yesterday to get over towards the ‘better wind’ that the GRIB files are suggesting lie to the west of the rhumb line. ‘SNBSM Espoir Compétition’ gybed back early and is positioned about 95nm west of the rhumb line while the ‘Two Pips’ opted to continue westward. According to the current weather forecast, this extra mileage to the west should put them into more consistent wind and stronger wind for the next few days. They’ve now gybed back and are 215nm west of the rhumb line and averaging a knot faster than ‘SNBSM Espoir Compétition’, so at this point it looks like this was a great decision.
Of course, this means they have to sail further and will need to keep their speeds up to compensate for the extra distance they have to sail. It’s a brave move for sure, but most definitely worth the risk as the weather files suggest that the westerly route holds significant advantage and could let them gain at least 3 positions in the next few days as well as provide them with a faster transit of the doldrums which will be a significant benefit.
Clearly, the ‘Two Pips’ are feeling elated as is apparent in the comms from the boat overnight:
“Its Sunday afternoon and we are flying downwind to the west of the Cape Verde Islands. Sun is out, kite is up and there is white water rushing out from under the boat and we surf from one wave to the next. We are having fun, pushing the boat and making some good miles to Itajai.
“Since Thursday life on board has changed a lot. We have escaped the high pressure where we had very little wind. We where getting very frustrated not knowing what sail to have up when and which forecast to believe in. We had been stuck in the high for way to long. On Friday afternoon a steady breeze started to fill in. We had the gennicker up and then the A2 (the big pink kite) and then we would swap them over we did this a few time before we really started to move. Each time we got more and more hot and bothered. Happy to escape the high as night set in. Friday night was the first night at sea since the start where we did not make a sail change. Pip and I took it in turns helming and making Concise 2 go fast. We started to eat up the miles.
“Now we are sailing downwind with white water spraying everywhere. Life on board has changed a lot since Thursday! We are:
A) moving along at over 10 knots constantly
B) we have wet bums again with all of the water coming over the deck(it is too hot to wear water proof trousers) and
C) we both have smiles on our faces.
“We are starting to close in on our competitors. Pip and I are taking it in turns to helm to make the most of our speed and to save diesel. We have been at sea for 2 weeks today and we think that we are going to be a bit short on diesel for charging so we are hand steering to save on fuel and push the boat harder. This however comes with side effects – You have a wet bum all the time. I have a pair of dry shorts down below and a pair of shorts for on deck that are always wet. It is well worth it. When you are on the helm and suddenly the bow is higher than the horizon and you are surfing at 17 knots down a wave. The challenge is to not get the water to come down the deck towards you. Which is almost impossible. The nights are hard. It is dark as the moon is very small now and you can not really see the waves. It is a bit like driving blind folded. You have to feel the waves and feel the boat watching the kite to maximize the speed.
“The dolphins still come to play with us in th early hours of the morning. This morning they looked like torpedoes in the sea. Phosphorescence lighting them us as they surfed the waves and jumped next to the boat. It is a spectacular sight.
“We are now trying to set ourselves up for the doldrums and to cross the equator. This is a very important part of the race. Today we are lining ‘Concise 2′ up to come in at the right angle. We have a game plan and we will watch the leaders and the weather over the next few days very carefully before we finalize our strategy.”
Out front in their class, ‘Le Conservateur’ continues to lead the Class40 fleet, now with a lead reduced to 100nm, ahead of ‘Carac Advanced Energies’ who is has just slipped past ‘V and B’.
The big talk right now is focussed on ‘The Jackal’, Armel Le Cléach who gained his nickname for his ability to stalk the front runners and pounce the minute they made a mistake or had a problem, picking off the victory at the very end of the race. This is most definitely the case right now as he and his co-skipper, Erwan Tabarly are carefully stalking Vincent Riou and Sébastian Col on ‘PRB’ who are leading the IMOCA boats, just 14nm directly behind ‘FenétrëA Prysmian’ who leads the Multi50’s.