The case of the errant depression

Strange tactics set to unfold as depression is due to southeast in the Transat bakerly

Friday May 6th 2016, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

In the Ultime battle down the tradewinds, Francois Gabart on MACIF is prevailing once more and hardening up slightly has once again pulled in front of Thomas Coville on Sodebo. This morning MACIF was some 800 miles southwest of the Azores island of Horta, but still southeast of the area of high pressure that continues to dominate the central North Atlantic.

Part of Gabart's move is to cover his opponent, who yesterday was threatening to overtake him. It's also in anticipation of the centre of the high shifting north over the next 24-48 hours. Meanwhile closer to the centre of the high the wind is less and the speeds of the two boats has dropped below 20 knots. Now the object of the exercise is to skirt the south side of the high and a balancing act between sailing the least miles and remaining the best breeze. 

"After racing such a distance, our difference is ridiculous. It's awesome! We wanted to get some competition, and it has delivered,” enthused Gabart this morning. From being neck and neck down the race course yesterday, this morning Gabart holds an advantage of some 65 miles and was making better speeds than Sodebo, Coville's heavier trimaran preferring yesterday's brisker conditions.

Coville said: "To explain the strategy we have used in this race, you should interview Florian Rousseau, the greatest track cyclist of all time. He could tell you about the advantage of moving towards the outside of the track to take advantage of a slope. For us in this case we have moved (south) for a little more wind. For us the route is long, but ultimately what matters is the intensity and effort that you put into everything on board that brings it all together.”

Behind Yves le Blevec on the third Ultime, Actual, Coville's previous Sodebo trimaran, is also aiming to pass south of the high, but at a high latitude in anticipate of the high edging north over the next 24 hours. The two lead Multi50s and Paul Meilhat on the IMOCA 60 SMA seem to be following a similar tactic.

Heading south to avoid the depression, his rivals Gilles Lamiré aboard French Tech Rennes St Malo and Erik Nigon on Vers un Monde Sans Sida, are still enjoying a downwind sleigh ride before shifting their thoughts to the challenges ahead.

“Usually we expect the weather depressions in the early days of the race, but after five days in the trade winds, I am keeping an eye on the system that is slowly advancing towards the north of Spain, and I need to think about heading west,” commented Nigon.

“As I came down to Finisterre quickly, I will have to pass underneath the depression, and therefore expect headwinds while I am in the Azores of around 30 knots, gusting 40. This is serious but the boat is ready and I am rested.”

On French Tech Rennes St Malo, Lamire was in good spirits. “It’s going well, the boat and man are going well,” he said. “This wind is beginning to ease, we are still under gennaker but this time with a large mainsail. The boat is going well, I still have 14 knots of wind and the sea is beginning to flatten. Soon we will see the start of the depression, but I should not suffer too much.

“The first part of the race was pretty hard, especially at Cape Finisterre. I have not slept much since leaving, only last night to recharge my batteries. Before that I was only sleeping at small intervals as it was too hot. The first two days I hardly slept - one to two hours in 24 hours.”

The rest of the fleet is in a different race entirely. Lalou Roucayrol on the Multi 50 Arkema and the lead IMOCA 60s have this morning been tackling the cold front associated with the depression to their north. The tactic here would normally be to head northwest in the southwesterly breeze preceeding the front and then tacking out once the wind has veered into the northwest behind the front. And this is exactly what Arkema and Jean-Pierre Dick on St Michel Virbac have done, tacking earlier this morning. However PRB and Banque Populaire are playing a different game are this morning have been continuing to forge northwest, with Banque Populaire edging into the centre of the depression.

The reason for this is that the forecast has the depression shifting southeast and building over the next 24 hours. So the two lead IMOCA 60s are waiting for the depression to move as this will leave them in the band of gale force northerlies or northeasterlies on the opposite side of the depression.

The anticipated southeast track of this depression is also profoundly good news for the Class 40s. They are continuing to forge west, still at the latitude of the Bay of Biscay. Overnight they have been tackling the light winds of the ridge, preceeding the forthcoming depression.

This will mean that while the Class40 are currently heading into the eastern side of the depression, in fact tonight and into tomorrow morning they will be sailing over the top of the depression. Again this is uncharacteristic Transat weather - instead of going upwind into the teeth of the gale, the Class40s will crutially be going downwind... So this evening expect a grand formation-flying left hand turn to be made by the Class40s and then for them to shoot off to the southwest at super-sonic speeds.

At present the boats are lining up to be in the most favourable part of the depression. Given that the boats are all downloading similar GRIB files and are all using similar routing software on board, they are all converging in a similar place with Britain's Phil Sharp on Imerys going well but with Thibault Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires en Peleton-ARSEP a nose ahead and still with Isabelle Joschke on Generali, one of two women competing in the Class40, in between the two boats and slightly behind.

Thibaut Vauchel-Camus aboard Solidaires en Peloton–ARSEP commented: “I’m pretty happy with my position in the north, although in hindsight I could have made that choice a few hours earlier, to position myself more in the west. The conditions have been cool and calm today, allowing me to make checks on the boat ahead of the depression that will tenderly greet the fleet late tomorrow afternoon…

“Everything is great onboard, British Pilot whales have been playing games along side the boat - the largest member of the dolphin family.  It is the calm before the storm it seems.”

Image courtesy of Expedition and PredictWind


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