There may be some truth in the perception that life at the front of the Barcelona World Race fleet inherently feels better than that in any of the other current positions. True, most would swap with the Cheminées Poujoulat duo in an eyeblink, 1330 miles from the finish line with a lead of 1000 miles, but that does not mean that Bernard Stamm and Jean Le Cam have it easy.
They are working hard in unstable NE'ly trade winds, averaging 20-25kts, but with extended gusts and squalls to 35, even 40kts. This morning Jean LeCam reported that their biggest challenge was setting an optimum sail plan, constantly trimming and trying to protect their boat over these difficult miles towards the Med.
Veteran Le Cam, who is presently on course for his second IMOCA 60 race win in a row, reported this morning: “It's a bit hectic, hard work but it is not going too badly. The wind was a little gusty, we are in a kind of Portuguese trade winds with lots of squalls. The wind in the squalls can get up to 40kts, but usually we have 20-25kts so it's a bit hard. We are going into the seas and so as soon as you push too hard, get a bit faster then then boat starts to slam and jump.”
And, again, any suggestion that a lead of 1000 miles might allow them to ease back significantly, is parried quickly: “We are always at the same pace. This 1000 miles lead we had already in the Pacific. We push, but cautiously. If we start to just set up for 37kts then we don't move at all. If we reduce sail area for the maximum gust then we are not going forwards the rest of the time. Inevitably then we are a bit overpowered, but it is like that. It is part of racing.”
He reveals that they have had little time or inclination to think or talk about anything after the finish line. “This is our life, full time. We are fully occupied with this. I think it's distracting to think of beyond the finish. From the start line you focus on the finish line and not beyond it. And when it is a bit hard like it is now then we really need to pay attention to progress to make sure we don't break anything.”
And under the present intense workload, sailing two handed feels so much better than solo in the equivalent position: “Right now, at this time, solo you would be having zero sleep. Now, here you can sleep. There are loads of advantages, there is someone who can winch you up the mast, things like that. There are constraints, things like you have to share a living space, but when it goes well that is a bonus.”
Asked if the race is as he anticipated he responds…. ” It is never as we imagine. Here we should be downwind in 18kts of wind and sunshine to Gibraltar, but here we have a leaden sky with a couple of postage stamps of blue skies and a sea which is potentially boat breaking, and we don't really know when it will drop. Before the start we run scenariors. In our scenario we are in the lead, that bit is reality, but the comparison ends there.”
A developing low pressure off the Iberian peninsula will see their wind lift to give them an increasingly favourable angle, westerly, downwind in the end into the Strait of Gibraltar. For Neutrogena and GAES Centros Auditivos behind in the NE'ly trade winds, the pace is still steady but life at an angle, slamming upwind remains pretty brutal: “Pfff, beating, beating, beating… and we have a horrible sea that does not allow us to make a very good angle, we sail between 55 and 60 degrees to the wind if we don't want the mast to go throuugh the deck. With the fatigue of the boat you need to throttle back a bit in this conditions. Fortunately it is the home straight,” Anna Corbella reported, some 200 miles behind Neutrogena.
One Planet, One Ocean & Pharmaton have the upper hand in the Catalan Cup duel with We Are Water, now credited with a lead of about 12 miles this afternoon. They are in the best of the SE'ly trades right now, drag racing each other in dream conditions, but no doubt furiously scanning all the available files and forecasts trying to make best sense of the evolution of the Doldrums which they will start to feel tomorrow.
Gelabert and Costa from the One Planet, One Ocean & Pharmaton wrote today: “This tussle with the We Are Water has us very entertained and we push with the same intensity as the first day of the race.”
And from 'noisy neighbours' We Are Water,Willy Garcia claimed: “Last night saw us caught with a heading gust of 25-30 knots with the A3 up, so we have been forced to drop the bow for almost an hour.. . We won a little west … Let's see what it's worth … I think that the passage of the Doldrums be interesting … It's been quite warm, but the nights are magical, if it were not for these neighbors we have, they just do not let us rest rest, ha ha ha “.
Renault Captur has worked west and turned this morning to the northeast. Jörg Riechers and Sébastien Audigane remain in complicated conditions, with light and unstable winds still the result of high pressure. And Spirit of Hungary have between 20 and 22 knots of wind from the NW. This means headwinds for Nandor Fa and Conrad Colman, pretty brisk conditions as they sail north east between 11 and 12 knots.
Rankings Thursday 19th March at 1400hrs UTC
1 Cheminées Poujoulat (B Stamm – J Le Cam) at 1760 miles to finish
2 Neutrogena (G Altadill – J Muñoz) + 983 miles to leader
3 GAES Centros Auditivos (A Corbella – G Marin) + 1124 miles to leader
4 One Planet One Ocean & Pharmaton (A Gelabert – D Costa) + 2076 miles to leader
5 We Are Water (B Garcia – W Garcia) + 2089 miles to leader
6 Renault Captur (J Riechers – S Audigane) + 3468 miles to leader
7 Spirit of Hungary (N Fa – C Colman) + 4693 miles to leader
ABD : Hugo Boss (A. Thomson – P. Ribes)