Rounding to the East
After 40 hours at sea and having cleared one of the main obstacles of the start of the race, the maxi-trimaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild is currently slipping along the Iberian coast in a NW’ly breeze oscillating between 12-13 knots. Sailing abeam of Porto at the first of the day’s position reports (0400 hours), Gitana 11 was still in 5th place in the ‘Ultimate’ class, but had conceded ground to the leaders, Sodeb’O and Groupama 3.

The game plan for the start of the race consisted of getting around the Azores High. With the latter especially keen for this time of year to make its presence felt over the North Atlantic, it has really been livening things up for the fleet in this ninth Route du Rhum. Looking at the grib files, some boats, such as Oman Air, have chosen to attack it via the North, while others, such as Gitana 11, Idec and Groupama, have opted for the southern route. Naturally each option has its pros and cons: the northern route, closer to the direct course, reduces the number of miles that have to be covered but calls for long hours of upwind sailing along a trajectory swept by successive depressions. In contrast the southern route, that of the tradewinds, enables the boats to make headway downwind in milder, smoother conditions, but it lengthens the theoretical course for the solo sailors. Finally, for this second option, elected by three of the five leading trimarans in the Ultimate class, life is coloured by the unknown element and the first difficulty to overcome involved getting around the ridge of high pressure before the latter temporarily blocked the way to the latitude of Cape Finisterre by staggering the calm zones.

Towards the end of yesterday afternoon, whilst the system was very widespread as forecast, the skipper of Gitana 11 experienced a few tense moments before savouring a successful negotiation of the initial tricky section: “We knew from the start that it was a very tight gap, but it was imperative we got to Cape Finisterre in time. Yesterday evening, at around 1900 hours, the headland was abeam of me when the wind dropped below 5 knots. It was a good half-hour of stress before the wind picked up again and the boat got going… It was a close call – about 3 hours in it – but we got past and that in itself is very satisfying.” However Yann Guichard is very much aware that vigilance is paramount in the upcoming hours: “It’s important not to hang around this area too long though, the zone of high pressure still isn’t far off!” Sylvain Mondon backed up this air of caution: “We have to continue slipping southward, at least as far as the latitude of Lisbon, if we are to get out of this risky zone.”

In the battle currently raging off the Portuguese coast the leaders are unquestionably reaping the benefits because, in view of the weather proposed in that area, the further ahead the boats are, the more wind there is, as the Gitana Team’s router, Sylvain Mondon, explained to us: “On our ‘Tradewind route’ option, we knew that the race was about managing to make up as much ground to the South as quickly as possible. Thanks to the potential of his maxi-trimaran, Franck Cammas managed to be quick in the Bay of Biscay during the first night of the race, despite the sea state. This advantage enabled him to be further South of us the whole time, where there was always more wind than there was for Gitana 11 and Idec. Since Cape Finisterre, he’s never had less than 15 knots, which ensured him an output close to 25 knots, while for our part, the breeze is fluctuating between 9 and 19 knots with the average trend being around 13 knots. There is no doubt that he’s carried the day with this first system!”

Contacted this morning shortly before the first of the day’s rankings, the skipper of Gitana 11 described to us his sailing conditions: “We’re dropping down the Iberian coast in downwind conditions, but the wind is still fluctuating a great deal in terms of intensity, which isn’t enabling Gitana 11 to position herself very well, hence our rather uneven progress. I’m carrying everything aloft, with full mainsail and large gennaker.” As regards life onboard, at dawn on the second day of this Route du Rhum, Yann Guichard seems to be into his stride, despite a physically intense start to the race and a lack of sleep: “Yesterday afternoon I managed to sleep for an hour and a half in thirty minute chunks and last night I allowed myself a few short siestas. We don’t have any choice. To keep going and be sufficiently lucid to get the boat making headway correctly, you need to be able to get rest. It’s essential. I’ve also been making sure since the start that I eat regularly. The temperatures are beginning to climb, but for the time being I’m still in foulies as the atmosphere is still a bit wet. The first night in the Bay of Biscay caught us off guard a bit – both Gitana 11 and me – but just now I feel nicely in phase with the boat” explained the skipper of Gitana 11.

Ranking for the Ultimate Category on 2nd November at 0400 hours
2.Groupama 3 some 13.4 miles back
3. Oman Air Majan 36.2 miles
4. Idec 98.8 miles
5. Gitana 11 some 120.3 miles
6. La Boite à Pizza some 201.8 miles
7. Défi Cancale 229.3 miles
8. Saint-Malo 2015 some 275.8 miles
9. Côte d'Or II some 372.8 miles astern

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