Istanbul Europa Race: The fleet regroups at the Brittany gate

Sunday, 20 September 2009


The frontrunners in the Istanbul Europa Race continue towards the gate in Brittany, a compulsory passage before heading off to the Wolf Rock lighthouse on the far south-westerly point of England. After six days of racing the intensity is as great as ever with the key factor throughout the day being the great uncertainty of conditions, in particular for the first four boats who are currently in the Gulf of Gascony and in the clutches of an area of high pressure that has quite clearly defied any predictions.

The fleet will soon head into British waters where massive tidal influences are at play, alongside the additional complication of strong and changeable currents. The return passage through the English Channel awaits the fleet after rounding the Brittany mark where the first teams are expected this evening... The Istanbul Europa Race is drawing to a close, and the outcome of this third and final leg that started in Barcelona last Monday is still uncertain. Michel Desjoyeaux and Roland Jourdain's teams are currently 280 miles from the finish line; both teams having stretched out ahead of the others after rounding Cape Finisterre. However a completely unexpected twist in the meteorological conditions may now put what seemed to be a solid lead on tenterhooks.

Two duels up front

The battle for a podium position is intense indeed, with scarcely ten miles separating Foncia from the chasing Veolia Environmment. All the ten crew members at the front know the coming hours are likely to be tough as they hit the transition zone of particularly light and flukey winds. The lack of pressure has already made itself present as the leaders slowed and the two teams battling behind approached with a vengeance having opted further west for stronger and more stable breeze, and cutting the 85 mile advantage held yesterday to 50. The fleet is clearly regrouping in true ‘accordion' style. For the time being Foncia and Veolia Environmment have been able to hold off the attack of the duelling duo from the west, which they may well manage until the gate, however whether this continues through the complicated waters of the English Channel with its fickle winds and strong currents is anyone's guess. 

Back on the other side

 Further back and sailing in a totally different weather system, 1876 (Guillermo Altadill) can not underestimate the importance of the damage suffered on the mast, and is making slow progress towards Cape Finisterre. The Portuguese coastline well-known for serving up equal quantities of too much or too little wind, saw the Spanish team becalmed, registering barely three knots of boat speed whilst DCNS (Marc Thiercelin) continuedto chase them northwards, alone at the back of the fleet. However the Spanish team has not let the unstable conditions dishearten them, and have finally picked up speed and registered a double-figured numbers in the last position report! The newest boat in the Imoca fleet already opted not to stop and now in view of the unstable and fickle wind that is expected ahead of them, is optimistically heading further offshore to avoid the worst of the conditions, even if adding miles to the final stage of the leg. 


Roland Jourdain – Veolia Environnement :

« We are learning something new every day, even in waters so close to home. We knew the weather was not going to be simple tonight and that was true enough. The weather files all differ! This morning the wind changed direction but not where expected. We are focussing on the rules and tactics, and it is a little tense. The others are going to continue to catch us throughout the day, and we are actually waiting for their wind. On our side, the closer we get to Foncia the happier we feel. It is really grey outside, with a little mist and some lovely black clouds that are causing some pretty interesting local weather effects. The sea is totally flat but that is undoubtedly being influenced by some strong tidal action, and there is the beginning of some big whirls of current. We keep finding huge areas of seaweed around us, and yesterday we had a pack of dolphins following us, they were crazy! After putting up with the heat of the calms, it is quite nice to be back in conditions where the boat is happier to show her performance, and I have to say we are not really used to just drifting around on this boat. Crossing the channel is not going to be easy, but it will depend on the time we cross the ridge and on the tides. We are going to be sailing along a coast that has massive tidal influences. But that's part of the game...”

Kito de Pavant – Groupe Bel :  

« The conditions we have found are totally different from what the models have been showing. We have had more wind than we expected and we have been able to pull back a little, so that hasn't been bad! We have been on the same tack and quite happy for the last 24 hours. Up front they must have come against lighter winds. After the radio interview yesterday Paprec-Virbac 2 overtook us, which really annoyed me, but we got in there and stuck ten miles on them! We are currently sailing at 10 knots with a small jib en route to the gate in Brest. We are used to sailing without instruments in complete darkness; sailing on our feeling and we're improving. There is a northerly quite changeable wind and some cloud. We are expecting a few showers but hope to get to the gate by this evening. Yesterday I played out the predicted routes and it gave us an hour's difference with Foncia. Things have definitely been progressing and the conditions are changing, so we will just have to see what happens...”

Jean-Pierre Dick – Paprec-Virbac 2 :

«We have come back with a little more offshore wind and even if the two leading boats have a good advantage, we can make a gradual comeback. Nobody really knows what is going to happen, as the race is not over yet, we still have to cross a ridge and the English Channel in strong currents. I am a little disappointed with how our choice has played out, but with what the models were showing yesterday and the conditions we have found this evening, there has been a huge difference. In fact the wind has come back from everywhere and Groupe Bel didn't slow down as we thought she might. Suddenly on Paprec-Virbac 2 we had already sailed further than we expected for nothing and Kito de Pavant was able to take distance from us. Currently we have wind, even if we are under a big black cloud that is really unstable. We have 120 miles before we get to the gate at Brittany, and we should be there in about ten or twelve hours.”

Michel Desjoyeaux – Foncia :

«Tonight we got some better pressure which was pretty good. Right now we are crossing an area of transition but should be out of it soon even if what lies ahead looks like it is going to be complicated. We are well positioned between the mark (the gate at Brest) and our direct competition, and that is what we have to do best. It's true that we usually have a bit of a battle with Bilou. The English Channel shouldn't be too much of a problem even if there isn't much wind, the high pressure will be over the Gulf of Gascony. We have been keeping the same rhythm for the last few days. We are going to have to be patient and deal with the conditions that are expected. Our colleagues are coming in a little faster from the west, and it's the accordion affect that is regrouping us, which was obviously going to happen. We will be happy to step onshore, even if we have had some great sailing on the leg, some great experiences and enjoyed some really good racing.”

Marc Thiercelin – DCNS :

«We had some wind this morning, some great sunshine and the beautiful Atlantic light with offshore cumulus clouds. We are making about ten knots of boat speed. In the Gulf of Gascony we will have to cross the ridge that is less active than was expected. We'll see what happens even if we already have been delayed. This race from Turkey to Brittany, past Greece, Spain and now Portugual before England has been long, and we have sailed a lot of miles. I want to say hello to all the DCNS team and reassure them that they shouldn't be concerned about the boat. DCNS was born just before the Vendée Globe and was the aim for this first season of 2009, we have the Transat Jacques Vabre still to come. After Brest we will head to Caen to work in a special 60 footer workshop, to change a few things after the huge amount we have learnt whilst sailing this race.”    

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Last Updated ( Sunday, 20 September 2009 )