Calm after the storm

IMOCA 60 leaders in a calm as the Class40s get a pasting in the Transat bakerly

Saturday May 7th 2016, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Competitors in the Transat Bakerly seem to be in several very different races at present.

Getting a proper taste of the evil the North Atlantic has on offer, the IMOCA 60 frontrunners felt the brunt of an intensifying depression yesterday morning. The two leaders, Armel le Cleac'h on Banque Populaire and 2004 Vendée Globe winner Vincent Riou on PRB, tacking at around midday yesterday once they were into the southwestern quadrant of the depression and the wind was veering into the northwest. Heading southwest into a strong freeing breeze, the lead IMOCA 60s would have been making warp speed were it not for the difficult sea state kicked up by the wind shift...

Over the course of the night, the IMOCA 60 lead pair have sailed out of the breeze as the depression has sped away in the unusual direction of the southeast and typical of the rapidly changing weather in a race against the prevailing weather systems, this morning they find themselves back to making single digit boat speeds as they tackle a ridge.

The passage for Banque Populaire and PRB over the next few days doesn't look great as the surprisingly static Azores high, situated in the centre of the Atlantic shifts slowly north at the same time as the skippers are forced to come south to pass the southern boundary of the ice exclusion zone at 41°30N, still some 640 miles down the race track for Banque Populaire at breakfast time today. The IMOCA leaders will be attempting to get north today in order to give themselves a good angle in the northwesterlies on the top right quadrant of the high. However it looks they will at some point get trapped in light winds north of the high.

While the IMOCA 60 leaders currently wallow, so in the last few hours it has been the turn of the Class40s to get a pasting. The leaders in this class pretty much sailed into the east side of the depression's windless centre at around 1800 last night - hence the odd round-about track of a couple of competitors such as Thibaut Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires en Peloton and Isabelle Joschke on Generali-Horizon Mixité at around this time. The person who seems to have done their routing best has been Britain's Phil Sharp on Imerys, who came into the system to the north of the others and as a result didn't have to take a major detour to avoid its centre. Because of this the British skipper has managed to nose out in front of the other Class40, although this will be necessary if he is to win since he is soon to find out about the time penalty he is to receive for infringing the TSS off Ushant.

As we stated yesterday, while conditions have been brisk, the competitors have nonetheless got off reasonably lightly by the standards of this race - their gale has been downwind rather than upwind, thanks to the centre of this depression unusually far south.

Nonetheless overnight conditions have been tough with winds gusting to 50 knots. For the Class40 leaders, the gale peaked at around 0300 this morning, and the wind is now starting to ease as the centre of the depression disappears off to the southeast.

Yesterday's leader, now in third, Vauchel-Camus reported this morning: “I'm still in the remnants of the gale, there are still gusts of up to 35 knots, and I saw 56 knots on the anemometer last night. I made it through the night with two reefs in my sail and saw a top boatspeed of 27 knots.

"We had winds of up to 45 knots and gusting 55. It was a complicated and sleepless night on board. Today I need to rest and try to dry everything out – it’s time for a cheese fondue!”

Worst affected by the gale was Armel Tripon on Black Pepper who found himself in the strongest northwesterlies to the southwest of the system and has had to run off before it. “I had to flee,” he explained this morning. “I’m heading south.”

Other strategies are playing out. To the south of the lead IMOCA 60s are Jean-Pierre Dick on St Michel Virbac and the Multi 50 Arkema, skippered by Lalou Roucayrol. They tacked early yesterday morning and while they have seen less wind than the boats further north, they have found themselves more upwind. However they are likely to be held up less in the ridge that Banque Populaire and PRB are currently negotiating.

Also Yves le Blevec on the third placed Ultime, Actual, has caught up some miles on the run-away leaders, MACIF and Sodebo after they spent most of yesterday being lured into the south side of the Azores high from where they have had to gybe earlier this morning. Sailing around the southwest side of the high as they will over the next couple of day, the Ultimes will get nicely lifted. It will be interested to see which side of Bermuda they end up passing.

This morning, Gabart said he was hoping to finish in a total race time of under eight days. “It’s going pretty well, we went around the depression. It’s been a good 48 hours and the conditions have been ideal. Now we look towards New York, we’re finally on the road to Manhatten. It won’t be straightforward, but we are looking at an ETA of early morning on Tuesday and I’m still in Crocs and shorts!”


Image courtesy of Expedition and PredictWind


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