Photo: Andres Soriano / Neutrogena

Breaking through into the Med

Neutrogena closing in on Hugo Boss again in the IMOCA Ocean Masters NY to Barcelona race

Friday June 13th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

The IMOCA Ocean Masters New York to Barcelona Race may be down to just three boats, but the match race for the lead between two of Spain’s most experienced offshore racing sailors – Pepe Ribes and Guillermo Altadill - could well last all the way to the finish line.

Since this event set sail from New York twelve days ago, the closest competition has been continually between the two stable mates from Sir Keith Mills’ company 5°WEST: Pepe Ribes and Ryan Breymaier on Hugo Boss (the 2011 generation former Virbac Paprec 3) and Team Neutrogena (the 2007 generation former Estrella Damm/BT, which, as Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson sailed to third place in the last Vendée Globe).

Hugo Boss had managed to pull out a 30 mile lead as the boats were passing Cape St Vincent off southwest Portugal on Wednesday morning, but this had halved as the boats entered the Strait of Gibraltar yesterday. After a brutal upwind beat in gale force wind-against-tide conditions, the two boats exited the Strait late yesterday afternoon with Neutrogena’s deficit down to 11 miles.

Since then, the two boats have applied slightly different tactics in crossing the Alboran Sea, east of Gibraltar, with Neutrogena setting up 12 miles to the north of her opponent, as both boats headed east. However over the course of this morning Neutrogena has performed better and by 11:30 UTC, as the boats were passing some 45 miles south of Almeria, her deficit on Hugo Boss in terms of distance to finish was down to just 1.9 miles – unbelievably close after 12 days of racing.

A significant issue for the crews here is that the Mediterranean demands a completely different approach. Out in the Atlantic the weather systems are typically large, well defined and for the most part easy for Met Office supercomputers to forecast. In the Med because of the high temperatures and the constant proximity of land, ‘local effects’ are far more prevalent. Hence this morning while the forecasts were indicating the wind would be easterly and backing into the northeast as the boats approached their present position, in fact the race leaders were experiencing entirely unforecast southerlies.

“The weather models are confusing,” admitted Hugo Boss’ Pepe Ribes. “Over the last 30 hours all the GRIB files [weather forecasts] have been wrong and I am using four different models [ie forecasts from four different sources]. They indicate the opposite of what we have.” At the time Hugo Boss was sailing under Code 0 in 6-7 knot winds from the south. As to why Neutrogena had been able to hunt them down, he added: “Neutrogena is faster in these light conditions and flat water.” However Hugo Boss is also experiencing some further technical issues – the latest involving the hydraulics for the giant rams used to articulate her canting keel. At present this hydraulic problem is preventing Hugo Boss from having her keel canted fully – effectively she is unable to achieve full power, although this is not too much of a problem in the light conditions.

On Team Neutrogena, Guillermo Altadill confirmed the unpredicted conditions: “In the last few hours, the wind has shifted by 70°, changing continuously and has built by 3-4 knots.” He added that he was going to ignore the forecasts from now on and instead would be attempting to play the ‘thermal breezes’ (generated by the land and sea heating up at different rates during the day).

GAES emerged from the Strait of Gibraltar at around 04:00 UTC this morning after receiving a 35 knot upwind battering in heinous ‘wind against tide’ conditions that was throwing up sharp, unpredictable waves. Added to this predicament, the Strait is also one of the world’s most congested commercial shipping lanes, and has a surprisingly high number of fishing nets drifting around it: In two separate incidents GAES got nets caught around her keel and had to reverse to detangle herself.

And then from the ridiculous to the sublime: Following their beating in the Strait, this morning Anna Corbella reported that the wind had dropped to just 8 knots, the sea now as flat as a pancake.

Safran skipper Marc Guillemot, who injured his ribs yesterday, resulting in the retirement of the race’s long term leader, was discharged from hospital last night and is on the mend.

The ETA of Hugo Boss/Neutrogena into Barcelona is late on Sunday, but as indicated, predictions remain something of a lottery.

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