Fighting for Control
The eastbound express of the Barcelona World Race is a long, long one – from Cheminées Poujoulat which is approaching the mid-point of the Pacific, about to pass into Chilean waters tomorrow, to Spirit of Hungary 4000 miles back which is anticipating their passage of Cape Leeuwin. But the train is still continuuing to move rapidly eastwards in favourable conditions.
For all the world the three way battle for second step on the podium looked set to intensify, with all three of the protagonists, long time incumbents Neutrogena, third placed GAES Centros Auditivos and Renault Captur, all up for a sustained battle to the finish line.
But the attack of fourth placed Renault Captur looks set to be compromised because of an ongoing problem with their starboard rudder which means Jorg Riechers and Sébastien Audigane are having to reduce speeds to keep their boat under control. Three big successive Chinese gybes last night and early this morning were more than enough of a warning to the German-French duo of the need to back off, to reduce sail if they are to stay within the sensiblerealms of control. That has meant sailing with two reefs and the J2 and keeping speeds close to 15kts.
The problem appears to stem from yesterday’s starboard ruder repair. A replacement carbon sleeve was fitted over the damaged rudder but, after speaking to the boat this morning, is seems like the temporary foil is moving or not rigid enough to take the loads when the Finot designed IMOCA 60 is moving at high speeds in the big seas and spins out.
Renault Captur have had trouble with their rudders since the Atlantic. Initially the rudders are reported to have kicked up by themselves. That problem was solved in the Doldrums and again in the St Helena high. Their technical team reports that the rudders were blocked to avoid them kicking up in the Southern Ocean.
After the rudder blade was damaged it was repaired yestrday with a carbon “sock” slipping over the rudder and then stuck in place. The technical team are looking at possible solutions but Riechers seemed to think they will be hobbled for some time. His co-skipper Audigane said today:
“Last night when we were sailing higher at 125 TWA, there is no problem, we can control the boat, even with the [Auto] pilot it goes well. The problem is that when you have the bow down and the sea is a little cross; under these conditions is not right. Above 19 knots of wind, we lose control of the boat, the helm really loads up very heavy. It is like losing control of a car at 150kms/h. All we can do it keep in the reefs and stay slowed.
We were happier because we had worked hard and got to within 190 miles of GAES Centros Auditivos. We can go a little slower, a little under sail when we are on port tack. So really our goal is to pass Cape Horn and to finish this round the world race. In the Atlantic it will be easier to race with a damaged rudder.”
Renault may struggle to stay in the match for third, but for sure the tussle is only just hotting up. GAES Centros Auditivos have been keeping up the pressure on Neutrogena. Their deficit this afternoon is reduced to just 57 miles, but Guillermo Altadill and Jose Munoz are one knot quicker now and so that delta should stabilise at worst. The Spanish-Chilean partnership have been further south and appear to have just a little more speed.
Big Lead Big Wind
Cheminées Poujoulat are not short of wind. Since this afternoon they have been into 30-35kts on the front of a low pressure system, leading by over 1100 miles from Neutrogena.
We Are Water have been slowed, in a cell of high pressure between two lows, but Bruno and Willy Garcia should get out imminently and have a fast passage across into the Pacific.
One Planet One Ocean are well past Cape Leeuwin but the second great cape for Didac Costa and Aleix Gelabert marked an emotional moment for the amateur duo. Costa admitted he still marvels at the speeds and ease of handling of their IMOCA 60, formerly Ellen MacArthur’s Kingfisher:
“Perhaps because I have not been in the IMOCA so long but it still impresses me how these boats sail in the big south. The seas form and the boat accelerates and the noise is incredible. You think everything will explode. But it doesn’t and it all happens again. It is addictive.”
But for all that they are in regular contact with Race HQ, the loneliness and isolation is palpable, and enduring:
Costa says: “The truth is that yes there are times when you think how lonely you are here Before Good Hope the last human life we saw was a merchant ship. Since then there has not been a boat of any kind. The only life we see is birds.”
And the worst of life in the the information desert?
“We know nothing about Barça, the football club. Which is unthinkable when you are in the city.” he joked.
Jorg Riechers (GER) Renault Captur: “We have trouble with our new rudder. Whenever we get faster than 20kts then the rudder loses control. We did one big Chinese gybe last night and we could not stop two more just in the last few minutes. We cannot go faster than 18 or 20kts.
The thing is the rudder tip broke two days ago and the rudder degraded more and more. And so we have this rudder sock and we thought it would be OK, and at first it wasn’t. But in the second half of the night somehow it started to get really strange. The sock is not rigid enough to withstand the loads, so it changes shape and so the force on the two sides is different. And whenever you are in the waves it is bearing away hard or luffing hard and the pilot could not handle that. And even if you are hand steering it is so difficult to handle because the loads are too big. That is a big problem. Whenever we are in big surf we cant control the boat. So that the reason why we have reduced sails, we sail with the J2 and two reefs instead of the J1 and one reef. That sucks a little bit because we had made good ground on GAES tonight and now we are sailing with no teeth. It is really not good.
There is no solution. The only solution is to go slow on port tack. On starboard we can go at 100 per cent. So when we sail on port tack we sail at 80 per cent, and so from now on it is a little bit like cruising, fast cruising. That really sucks.
No there is nothing we can do. We can hope there is a lot of starboard tack sailing so we can attack. The other thing we have to hope is that our deficit at Cape Horn is too big so we can attack in the Atlantic and go for the podium.
The thing is approaching Cape Horn with a lot of wind might be a lot of trouble for us. When the boat is not controllable in big surfs, then it might be a bit dangerous. There is nothing, unfortunately, that we can do it. ”
We are slightly tired. At 0230hrs everything was good, everything was rosy, but from then on it turned into a living nightmare, absolutely not good and we are completely gutted.
Alex Gelabert (ESP) One Planet One Ocean & Pharmaton: ” It was a very good moment to pass Cape Leeuwin, very emotional, very good but now we are pointing to Cape Horn. For me that is the most emblematic of the three Capes we have to pass in the race. So we are very happy with that. And so now we would just like to arrive at Cape Horn soon and see what happens.
We are reading a little bit of everything. There are books which were sent to us. And I am reading a book which is called …… to relax a little.
Yes, here we have internet connection but we dont use it to read the news. And the only news that we know from the world are the little things that our team and our families have been sending to us. We dont know anything about football, about FC Barcelona. We dont know what is happening on land.
I speak to the family every day by email and since Barcelona we have spoken two times by phone, but no more. I have some emails with my father.”
Standings at 1400hrs UTC Tuesday 17th February 2015:
1 Cheminées Poujoulat (B Stamm – J Le Cam) at 9576,2 miles from finish
2 Neutrogena (G Altadill – J Muñoz) + 1120 miles to leader,
3 GAES Centros Auditivos (A Corbella – G Marin) + 1177,6 miles to leader
4 Renault Captur (J Riechers – S Audigane) + 1435,6 miles to leader
5 We Are Water (B Garcia – W Garcia) + 2607,4 miles to leader
6 One Planet One Ocean & Pharmaton (A Gelabert – D Costa) + 3299,7 miles to leader
7 Spirit of Hungary (N Fa – C Colman) + 3963,9 miles to leader