Day 9 – The Biscay Brute
Wednesday 14 December 2011
The last few miles of this Transat B to B may well be the most difficult of the passage across the Atlantic. On arrival in the Bay of Biscay, in some particularly hard weather conditions, the solo sailors know that seamanship is going to be essential. Knowing how to get your boat into port intact remains the surest way of getting a result.
- The solo sailors en route towards the safety gate
- Making landfall in the Bay of Biscay proving tricky
- Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) requests redress with the jury
- Live radio Session at the Cité de la voile Eric Tabarly at 13h10 and on www.transatbtob-imoca.org
- Radio Sessions to dowload on the “press page” on the transat website
These last days are certainly no picnic. Indeed once they’re through the safety gate, the fleet is likely to suffer the real wrath of this return transatlantic between Saint Barts and Lorient. As they approach the Bay of Biscay, the solo sailors will have to contend with south-westerly winds of 40 to 45 knots, with gusts of 70 knots. Next, during the course of Thursday, the winds are set to swing violently round to the North-West at 35 to 40 knots, still with very violent storms that may increase to up to 70 knots. These exceptional conditions are something the solo sailors of the Vendée Globe are likely to encounter two to three times during their round the world, but for the majority of the time, they have a considerable amount of deep water around them far from the hazards of land. The difficulty here lies in finding the right balance so they can continue to make headway towards the finish without going too fast and putting the boat’s structure at risk. Obviously race management is continuing to keep a close eye on how the situation pans out and is continuing to analyse the latest models, in liaison with the weather specialists.
The racers which have precise weather information know very well what awaits them. As such, everyone is trying to prepare themselves as best they can: sleeping before they’re tired, eating before they’re hungry and wrapping up before they get cold, such is Mike Golding’s recipe on Gamesa, and he should know all about it given his experience. For others, it’s a question above all of doing a through check of the boat to make sure it can stand up to the bad weather. For Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) meantime, at the back of the fleet, it could have been the end of his transatlantic race last night after his staysail stay, which supports the mast up forward, exploded. Fortunately he was able to effect repairs rapidly and all is well.
For Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3), things are back as they should be after yesterday’s successful mast climb to release his gennaker hook. He took the time to recover, sleep, eat and tidy things up and is back in race mode after some precious lessons for the Vendée Globe.
Meantime, after consideration, Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) has finally made the decision to request a redress with the Transat B to B jury, relating to the safety gate. Though he perfectly understands the safety imperatives which dictated the decision by race management, the English skipper deems that, given his position the furthest North of the fleet, the new course means he will have additional miles to race in relation to his rivals further South. As such he has decided to protest the decision and his request was received by the race jury this morning. The jury will have to wait until they have all the necessary information to make the proper decision as confidently as possible. Patience and time is sometimes the best guarantee of fairness.
Quotes from the Boats.
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss): “Last night sustained 40 knots. Biggest gust in squall up to 52 knots. Some of the nastiest seas I have ever seen.”
Mike Golding (Gamesa): “Right now about 22-25 knots of breeze, but some very, very big rolling swells, so good surfing conditions. Not quite enough breeze to make maximum effect, but it gets us going every now and again. I have gybed. There are two ways when you are on your own. You either tack or maybe you even gybe traditionally, pull the mainsheet on the centre line, prior to that you have to make the decision to gybe, then drop all the stack, which is quite a big job in itself, centre the mainsheet, wind away the headsail and gybe the boat through normally, or alternately wind away the headsail and pull a little jib out and tack the boat. In our situation with only four winches in the cockpit it is a little bit tricky to gybe classically. I tend to prefer the chicken gybe. The sea state isn’t that bad at the moment. It has been like that but the boat is quite good, she will lift her bow, she is pretty good. To manage myself I always use the three golden rules which are sleep before you are tired, eat before you are hungry and wrap up before you get cold and that seems to work for me. But it is very dangerous if you move into any one of those three areas, hungry, tired or cold. It is quite difficult to get yourself out of that. You have to do something to get yourself physically out of it, so it isn’t ideal for a solo sailor to get overly tired. Naturally, I feel tired, right now tired, but not tired that I can’t function. I try not to get to the stage where I’m too quiet. I try to sleep before I reach that point. I don’t get there, it doesn’t happen. When to eat is always a problem. We have a lot of freeze dried food and pasta. The pasta is fine, but the freeze dried is pretty rancid, it is very difficult to find good supplier. On top of the pasta, I have energy drinks, hydration drinks and recovery drinks, sports drinks that just help me to completely stay alert.”
Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec): “I’m more and more at ease with scaling the mast, though clearly nobody enjoys doing that. You use up massive amounts of energy in such exploits. All the kit is the same as mountain climbers use. Once I was up at the top of the mast obviously I didn’t just want to job the mast as you can’t afford to damage anything, so I rigged up a system whereby I could drop it down gradually on its halyard and I got the job done. There’s no better way to train for the Vendee Globe. I’m decompressing now and I’ve just been tidying up the boat and getting in some sleep and now I’m about to eat. Unfortunately the system is too damaged to envisage hoisting the gennaker again but at least I no longer have the worry of it half unfurling itself in the big winds. I have 22 knots of breeze right now and I’m just focusing on getting the boat safely to the finish.”
Vincent Riou (PRB): “We’re making for the gate now and I put in a gybe a couple of hours ago. I have a few issues with my Fleet so I’m not getting much weather info and finding the right moment to gybe wasn’t easy. The current conditions are okay and in the future conditions are set to be both strong and impressive. I’m very much in favour of the course change because although it didn’t favour me due to my position up in the North, you just don’t ask any questions in a situation like this. The continental shelf means that the seas really get messed up as they hit the much shallower waters so it’s the swell and making for land that are the two hardest things.”
Louis Burton (Bureau Vallee): “I can see 30/ 35 knots up ahead on my grib files. I actually had a technical issue yesterday evening. I was reaching in 15/ 17 knots, under full mainsail and staysail when I noticed that the furler at the bottom of the staysail stay had exploded. With the staysail stay being the main stay supporting the mast up forward, it was action stations straightaway to avoid dismasting. As such I positioned myself with the wind astern of the boat and spent 4 hours manoeuvring in a bid to dump the staysail, put a new stay system in place with the help of a halyard, and that enabled me to secure the mast support. I had to try to sort it all out on the deck at night and I was a bit perturbed as it’s a sail I used all the time. As a result I’m sailing even more tentatively now.”
Francois Gabart (Macif): “Between the gate and Lorient it’s certainly a bumpy road so you just have to go about it with an intelligent strategy. To win you have to finish. You have to make sure you do things at your pace. I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised with how well the boat’s handled in the wind and the sea state; the autopilot too. I didn’t expect to be in first place but the jobs’ list is how I imagined. The worry right now after being one of the first to gybe South is not knowing if you’re sailing quick enough.”