The divide between boats in North and South becomes even more pronounced, as crews endure miserable weather conditions

There was little time for rest and reflection on the fourth day of racing, as the Atlantic weather systems pounded into the IMOCA Open 60’s and Multi 50 fleets.

Relief should come by the weekend, and forecasters promise some occasional respite. Ironically, the worst of the system is now due on Friday the 13th, but as the IMOCA Open 60 fleet work their way SW towards the Azores, skippers are counting down the hours to escape from the miserable conditions, and to see how their strategies play out.

The divide between the boats in the north and the south has become even more pronounced during the middle part of yesterday, with Michel Desjoyeaux and Jérémie Beyou (Foncia) now more than 400 miles south and east of their rivals in the north.

British duo Alex Thomson and Ross Daniel (Hugo Boss) may have been feeling slightly exposed – lonely even – on their more extreme northerly course. No sooner had a slightly rueful Thomson admitted, early this morning, that his preference, in hindsight, would have been to be in closer touch to the group of boats just to his south, than up popped 1876 only 22 miles astern.

The Spanish IMOCA Open 60 1876, with French co-skipper Yves Parlier – double winner of this biennial race – had taken the option to go for 24 hours in ‘stealth’ mode during which their position and progress is not published – as they hiked north on to a routing which has gained considerable credence over the last 24 hours.

The equation under scrutiny now is whether to endure much tougher, windier conditions for a short period in the north to get to the preferred wind shift first, or to stay more prudently south and profit that way.

Lying seventh and eighth respectively with deficits of 61 and 86 miles, on this afternoon’s schedule Hugo Boss and 1876 were the quickest boats in the fleet yesterday afternoon, by a margin of between two and four knots.

After taking the lead on the pre-dawn schedule yesterday, Seb Josse and Jeff Curzon on BT continue to hold on in the IMOCA Open 60 class, with a margin of just under 15 miles to maintain a controlling grip on the northerly group, perhaps with the exception of Hugo Boss. During the late afternoon BT, Mike Golding Yacht Racing and Groupe Bel were the first to tack SW.

Britain’s Mike Golding, along with Spanish co-skipper Javier Sanso, retains fourth place early this morning, with sistership Aviva of Dee Caffari and Brian Thompson less than five miles behind.

After arriving in Concearneau, Armel Le Cléac’h and Nicolas Troussel spent yesterday assessing the repair options to their mainsail mast-track and the forecasted weather conditions, looking their options for a possible return to the race course. Due to the combination of predicted storms in the Bay of Biscay, their deficit on the front of the fleet, and their desire not to compromise their IMOCA Open 60 in any way, the BritAir duo, in agreement with their team, decided the prudent option was to retire from the race.

Comments from onboard:

Alex Thomson (GBR), skipper Hugo Boss: “I had a phone call half an hour ago to say that Estrella have popped up out of her stealth mission and she is 20 miles behind us here in the north. I haven’t had a chance to plot the position yet, but if Yves Parlier – one of the great legends of solo sailing – has decided to come this way then it obviously means we’re going the right way! Or we hope it does anyway…..”

Javier Sanso (ESP), co-skipper Mike Golding Yacht Racing: “It is going well, we are making some progress down south. We have 3 reefs and a staysail, bouncing up and down, like in a washing machine. It is incredibly wet on deck and a very bumpy. It is miserable, cold and wet. But finally we think that in the next 40 hours we should be out of it….I hope. The pilots and the electronics are still giving us some problems. We are back like the old days with a piece of wool! But in some ways we are getting used to it, but it is very tiring and we have done a lot of hand steering. It is not good in this weather to have to suddenly get on deck to hand steer because the pilot has crashed. And that eats up the energy to suddenly run from inside to hand steer. So we are always ready to jump outside, it has been very, very, very tiring for Mike and I.”

“It is a good place. We are happy with that just now and will see what happens as we work to get down to the high pressure in the south.”

Vincent Riou (FRA), co-skipper Akena Veranda: “The first days have been wet, but the conditions are not so difficult for the moment. We have taken the comfortable option, towards the south, and so we don’t have any concerns for the boat. We chose the middle, intermediate road. The conditions so far remain OK, and with Arnaud we have no worries, we have had good rest, and he is a guy who is very easy to get along with.”

Marc Guillemot (FRA), Safran:
“It’s pretty brutal. It is crash, crash, crash. Since the end of the night the seas have got worse and the winds have got right up with some big gusts. But it is good to have a sailor like Charles on board. In conditions like these it is hard in the manoeuvres but together we manage. As for our options, well this is what we chose and we’d still rather be here.”

Michel Desjoyeaux (FRA) Foncia:
“All is well. This beating in the Atlantic was expected, and it was known that the strategies would develop. We will see what happens. Perhaps with Jérémie we have been too cautious. I did think that those closer to the depression would have had more difficulties today.

‘As for Yves Parlier I did not really consider that he would have chosen such an extreme option. So now, we will need to be patient. It is in the long run that we will all be able to make the assessment.”