Skippers are already making moves that could dictate the race outcome
After about 24 hours at sea, in conditions which have progressively eased off, many of the class leaders are hooked firmly into their strategic plays which could already dictate the outcome of their race.
The key choice, especially for the Ultime class giants and the IMOCAs, is whether to head south for the more favourable breezes while they last and try to deal with the expanding Azores high pressure system, or to stay north closer to the rhumb line course.
The big move has been that of Franck Cammas on Groupama 3, who has chosen to try and break on through the eastern side of the high pressure as it spreads eastwards to the Portuguese coast. The Jules Verne record holding skipper had already covered the Bay of Biscay by yesterday afternoon, and confirmed via radio that he was close in to Cape Finisterre:
“I’m making a good course here, trying to thread myself down the east side of the anticyclone, and so it’s been important to really push since the start and so south immediately from Ushant. It is tight, but there should be enough to get through, but it is important not to be caught by the edge of the ridge, so the next hours are critical. If I can get through that bit then I should be able to keep wind and keep going. I have an idea that both Idec and Gitana are following the same strategy, but the others really don’t have much chance of coming this way.”
Indeed, by late afternoon Groupama 3, lying in third place, was 33 miles SW of the famous point, having passed only 13 miles off. Making just over 22 knots in 12 knots of NW’ly breeze, Francis Joyon on Idec and Yvann Guichard on Gitana XI were lining up for the same strategy, with Idec 65 miles NW of Groupama.
Thomas Coville (Sodebo), still leads with a margin of more than 45 miles on Sidney Gavignet (Oman Air Majan). Gavignet is set for the more northerly strategy, tacking back to the NW around midday yesterday, diverging sharply with Cammas’ course who believes he has the speed and power to get south quick enough down the eastern fringe of the course.
Thomas Coville commented: “We are quick, making 20 knots with 10-11 knots of wind. Ultimately just now there is not really very great difference in speed between is, and the game is quite open, pleasingly competitive. Last night the wind got up with a swell and it was not easy to push hard without just losing speed. I don’t have that much wind, and what I have is dropping slowly.”
“The sea is a bit messy, a leftover sea. But it is does let me tidy up a little. I even got some lunch and a bit of a sleep, the chance to rest before pressing on into conditions which will not be easy. My routing at the moment allows be the options, the chance to wait and choose at the last moment. When I look at the files and the situation to the south, you can’t really accept that is the way to go. And that’s why I am here. I’m making some south and some west at the same time, and I feel like I am quite well positioned for the next anticyclone.”
A smart passage through Ushant before banking southerly miles, and profiting from the more favourable wind direction, has been the key to Kito de Pavant’s early lead in the IMOCA Open 60 class on Groupe Bel. He confirmed today on the live radio call that his lead may prove transitory, tracking 20 miles south of second place Roland Jourdain (Veolia Environnement). But while Bel was consolidating slighty, converging with the tracks of his rivals astern and to his NW, Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia) was on a lone march, heading more south and more east, inshore of Bel.
Transat Jacques Vabre winner Marc Guillemot (Safran) admitted that his first day has been tough, spending a lot of time on the helm, whilst trying to deal with an unspecified technical issue, one which he and his technical team are reported as noticing just in the pre-start period.
The IMOCA Open 60’s talented young rookie, 29 year old Christopher Pratt on the Finot Conq designed DCNS 1000 was pleased to be firmly in the mix through these early stages, running third for much of the day and dicing with the on form Armel Le Cléac’H, double winner of the key Figaro races this season, who had moved up to third on BritAir, the very similar Finot-Conq design.
So far the Class 40 fleet has gone very much to form with many of the favourites taking a spell at or near the front of a very competitive fleet. Their strategic options are very similar and clearly choices were being assimilated, but Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm on Cheminées Poujoulat has been setting an electric pace on the Rogers design, with a jump of around six miles ahead of double Mini winner Thomas Ruyant (Destination Dunkerque) and Nicolas Troussel (Credit Mutuel de Bretagne).
Best of the two British skippers remains Richard Tolkien in 20th on the Humphreys designed ICAP Orca, with Pete Goss on DMS in 29th.
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