675 mile day for Sodebo

As the rest of the fleet looks forward to the 'calm before the storm' in the Transat bakerly

Thursday May 5th 2016, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Hats off to Thomas Coville and Sodebo who have properly edged past Francois Gabart and MACIF in the Ultime class of the Transat bakerly despite sailing what appears to be an older heavier design, compared to the Vendee Globe winner's latest generation VPLP trimaran, launched last summer.

This morning finds the boats still blazing downwind in the Trades on a course that's pointing directly at the Caribbean, rather than the actual finish line inside New York harbour. The two boats have diverged slightly with 80 miles now between them. The Ultimes and Multi 50s are permitted shore based routing, so it would appear that the brains trust ashore is attempting to keep Gabart in greater pressure, further from the centre of the high, while Coville attempts to cut the corner slightly. The latter approach could work as the GFS forecast has the high edging north slightly over the next 24 hours. Having no diverged from the great circle between Plymouth and New York by more than 1000 miles, the duo still have around 800-850 miles to sail before they pass the southern extremity of the high.

However this should not take too long! Over the last 24 hours Sodebo has covered around 675 miles, which is nibbling at Armel le Cleac'h and Banque Populaire VII's singlehanded 24 hour record of 682.85 miles, set two years ago.

The routing suggests that the wind blowing around the high will get the Ultimes to within 500 miles of the finish line where they will then have to cross a ridge and then some headwinds as a new depression tries to form over the Carolinas on Monday before it gets squished by substantial high pressure lying just off the US east coast by Tuesday.

It looks like Yves le Blevec on the third placed Ultime, Actual is also following the big boys around the south of the high. “It's going pretty well,” said the former Mini Transat winner. “We have had good sailing conditions and I'm pretty happy. I have a lot of work. Although we have not had very harsh conditions, there have been a lot of manoeuvres and I have used the whole sail wardrobe. It always takes a little time to find the rhythm, but I feel really fit. Right now I'm trying to cross a small (area of high pressure). There is little wind and flat seas. Not so bad!”

Images courtesy of Expedition and PredictWind

Meanwhile everyone else behind is battening down hatches preparing to round the high upwind via its north side.

The lead Multi 50s and IMOCA 60s are continuing to head west at around the latitude of Vigo. According to the GRIB files they should be entering into the northeast lobe of the Azores high but this isn't born out by the speeds of the lead IMOCA 60s which in the 14-16 knot range. At present Armel le Cleac'h on Banque Populaire leads, positioned to the northwest of Vincent Riou on PRB in second and Jean-Pierre Dick on St Michel-Virbac in third.

For this group today's conditions will remain benign as they cross the ridge, however once the wind has filled in from the southwest it will build dramatically overnight with the onset of a cold front. Le Cleac'h's positioning is good because it will leave him well placed to tack southwest once the wind shifts into the northwest behind the front.

Behind the story is much the same, just delayed by a few hours, in the Class40 where all the boats are now heading west but at the latitude of La Rochelle-Bordeaux. Again with the wind angles it is hard to tell who is really leading but it will be between British hope Phil Sharp on Imerys to the north and Thibault Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires en Peleton-ARSEP 65 miles to Sharp's south. Mention should be made of Isabelle Joschke on Generali, who is doing very well between and just astern of the two front runners.

Although the Class40 frontrunners are still making 10-11 knots, they should see the wind dropping as they dig into the ridge before they too have to tackle the front. For the Class40 leaders this will happen tomorrow morning and they are also likely to see more of a pasting ahead of the front than the IMOCA 60s will by virtue of their being closer to the centre of the depression generating the fronts.

Snapping at Vauchel-Camus’ heels Louis Duc on Carac, Duc being the only Class40 skipper to have competed in this race previously. This morning he said the race has felt more like a trip from Europe to the Caribbean than a typical Transat upwind thrash to New York. But he knows that is about to change: “We have been sailing through a small ridge and now we are looking at the depression that is on its way. The fleet is very spread out and it will be interesting to see what everyone does. All is well on board and I am in good shape.”

A long way to the north of the racing fleet the French legend Loick Peyron is continuing to plough a lonely furrow on what might be termed a classic Transat route of old. Unlike the racing fleet, Peyron does not have access to modern weather software and so is sailing what he sees, much as Tabarly would have done. As of this morning Pen Duick II was cruising along at five knots, 250 miles due west of Land’s End with 2,700 miles still to go to New York. Peyron was just ahead of Tabarly’s equivalent position 52 years ago.

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