Photo: Armel Le Cleac'h/Banque Populaire

Hugo Boss 24 hour record under threat

As the Europa Warm Up IMOCA 60 hit death defying speeds en route to the Fastnet Rock

Thursday May 31st 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Contrary to the early forecast, so far the strong southerly winds have not yet abated for the leaders of the Europa Warm’Up race and so speeds have remained consistently high as the IMOCA Open 60’s plunge headlong towards the Fastnet Rock light. In these conditions the outstanding performer has been Bernard Stamm’s Cheminées Poujoulat which has been smoking, getting to within 10 miles of Alex Thomson’s 24 hour solo record.

Stamm is calculated to have made 457.7 miles point to point over the 24 hours to 1430 UTC this afternoon, and then 458.6 to 1730hrs, close to Thomson’s 468.72 mile record which he set in 2003 sailing up the North Atlantic. And there has been no let up in the ferocious pace with Stamm clawing back 10 miles today on leader PRB. Vincent Riou leads by just seven miles this afternoon ahead of the Swiss skipper, with Armel Le Cléac’h clinging on to third 20.9 miles behind PRB.

Stamm reported: “I am a bit surprised at my position, but at the same time really happy. I’d expected that it would drop away a bit, but that’s not happened so that is all good. The sea is better organised now, so you can keep speeds right up. The boat does stop in the short waves, and is suddenly covered with water. Every ten seconds the waves go right over the boat. But with the new coachroof I am well protected. Before that it was drysuit and a helmet. I managed to get some sleep, but 20-25 minutes at a time.”

Making over 25 knots in the sustained surfs, the pressure on the skippers and the boats is intense as they plunge into the back of the next wave, huge volumes of water sluicing over the deck. All of the skippers contacted today admitted some kind of wipeouts or sudden hand brake turns. This on-the-edge sailing is a taste of conditions they might expect in the Vendée Globe, a test for the skippers and their boats. And without doubt that there has already been damage in the fleet makes skippers have second thoughts about how hard they can press.

But their challenge here is to make such speeds and experiences feel like the norm. Stamm, for example, is absolutely one of the best, hard driving and skilled big winds and seas sailors there is – with two solo round the world race victories already to his name. But MACIF’s Francois Gabart admits that he is still very much on the upward learning curve sailing his IMOCA 60 solo in these conditions, and so he has been moving the cursor up as he learns. For him, speeds which seemed insane in the early hours of this morning, have likely begun to feel normal this afternoon. Man adapts to most things, they say, and before long the breeze will drop and 15-16 knots of boat speed will feel pedestrian.

“I am not going fast enough," admitted Gabart. "Compared with my competitors nearby, who have at least one lap of the globe under their belts, I am learning. I went up a bit and was suddenly I was making 16-20 knots, a bit less. We should continue fast to the Fastnet. You get used to speed, I was, like 'wahoo' at 20-21 knots yesterday and now you sit quietly watching the speedo hitting 23-24 knots.”

Of course it is a solo baptism of fire for Javier Sanso on ACCIONA 100% EcoPowered. While a highly experienced solo sailor and Vendee Globe competitor this is his first big race with his new Owen-Clarke design.

The Fastnet Rock off southwest Ireland is now within 500 miles for the leaders which means they can be rounding it late tomorrow night or early Saturday morning. Then it will be on to the third and final leg to the finish in La Rochelle. This is likely to be upwind again into an easterly or southeasterly. Predictions already have the fleet finishing the race ahead of schedule, perhaps as early as Sunday night.

Positions at 1800

Pos Boat Lat Long Spd Crs DTF DTL
1 PRB 46 09.48' N 17 11.56' W 20.5 43 899.7 0
2 Cheminées Poujoulat 45 42.72' N 16 45.72' W 17.3 40 909.1 9.5
3 Banque Populaire 45 41.92' N 17 37.76' W 18.7 44 932.4 32.8
4 ACCIONA 100%EcoPowered 42 00.32' N 19 02.60' W 14.9 46 1148.7 249
NL MACIF            
ABD Virbac-Paprec 3            
ABD Groupe Bel            

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