by Matthew Thomas
Well, it’s working…. Holding onto the westerly gybe has positioned the ‘Two Pips’ to the west and the forecast stronger wind is most definitely there and they’re slowly gaining on ‘Groupe Setin’.
Spirits onboard are up and they’re now enjoying the sailing as yesterday’s message shows:”
“Surfing with the fractional kite up making good speeds. 3rd Monday at sea!! Almost half way … 2774nm to go!”
“Le Conservateur’ is still leading, but now with only a 32nm lead as ‘V and B’ and ‘Carac Advanced Energies’ are both closing the gap quickly.
It’s clear the ‘Two Pips’ are pushing really hard, and Pip Hare’s message gives some insight to how they’re doing:
“I am exhausted! This race is turning into an epic that no-one predicted, we have been sailing now for 15 days and only today will we cross the halfway mark to Itajai. We have had to inventory our food, check water supplies, ration autopilot use to ensure there is enough diesel to charge the batteries for another two weeks. Food is not scarce yet, but there will be little to spare.
“It is not only the number of days that seem relentless, but the conditions themselves have allowed little scope to recharge our own batteries, we are hand steering as much as possible while the other person attends to keeping the boat in order, and sleeping whenever possible. During the day we are able to do longer stints on the helm, at night time we change more frequently and need to be sympathetic to each other’s different needs and levels of concentration in the dark.
“There is only a very thin moon at the moment so when there is cloud cover it is hard to see the spinnaker or waves to steer, you end up squinting through the murk to find the outline of the sail, the instruments glow red close at hand, but being fixated on them whilst steering can lead to a disorientation and disengagement with the sea all around you.
“For the following two nights in a row we have gybed at night which takes about an hour from start to finish with both of us working to set the boat up, check and double check ropes and lines, perform the manoeuvre and then tidy up. Not to mention of course moving all of that gear down below. The difficulties of doing all this in the dark are not straight forward, we use head torches to find the right ropes, but then that destroys your night vision” said Phillippa.
“When it is cooler on deck we are wearing thermals and foul weather gear, but the moment you move around or go below to move equipment it becomes like working in a steam room. Going onto the foredeck wearing a head torch makes you completely blind to the waves coming at you, so you become very unaware of how the boat is going to move. I have given up trying to stand, and just like in my mini I just crawl everywhere at night. It is not glamorous but I am still here!” said Pip Hare.
“Yesterday we made another one of those tactical decisions to go West. Yes, I know! Stop banging your heads on the table, it didn’t work out so well for us last time but we still have another 600 odd miles to get to the doldrums and just feel that there is more wind over in the west and we will have more options for where to cross the doldrums in a couple of days. The rest of the fleet currently looks to be following the line of the lead boat which is still wallowing. Cross your fingers for us!
“The tactic for more wind paid off in spades in latter part of yesterday afternoon and overnight as we were flying with our little kite up in 30 knots of wind. The ride was incredible with the boat regularly surfing and holding 17 or 18 knots of wind for a time and bursting out of waves, bow completely in mid air only to leap from the next wave and carry on in mid air beyond that. the steering required a huge amount of concentration, I got two 20 knot surfs, but all the time with a knot in my stomach knowing if I get it wrong we will wipe out in a big way. We sustained the pace for a good few hours and made the best mileage we could. But as the sun set, and we contemplated a night of on the edge extreme sailing in over 30 knots and neither of us having slept much in the last 24 hours, we discussed whether we should take in the kite?”
“Le Conservateur’ is still leading, but now with only a 32 nm lead as ‘V and B’ and ‘Carac Advanced Energies’ are both closing the gap quickly.
Out front, ‘FenêtréA Prysmian’ is still leading the ‘Pack of Three’ IMOCA oats which are still led by the team on ‘PRB’ who have managed to increase their lead to 57 nm and have only 409 nm to the finish line.
It’s all coming down to the wire in both the IMOCA 60 class as well as the Class40’s. The final trip down the Brazilian coast is sure to see some positions change in the IMOCA fleet and the Doldrums are sure to cause some headaches and upsets for the Class40’s especially if you look at the example at the front of the fleet where ‘V and B’ have charged through, often at 9 kts and the current leader ‘Le Conservateur’ has sailed mostly at 3kts.
Constantly moving and expanding and contracting the Doldrums pose a formidable challenge to all the teams and they’ll need some luck and a lot of weather data to negotiate them quickly and efficiently, which will most certainly change the fleet order over the next few days.