Atlantic passage in prospect
After setting out from Valencia in Spain shortly after 1400 hours on Sunday, the Route des Princes fleet just entered its third day at sea early this Tuesday afternoon. While Oman Air, the solid leader of this first leg, passed Gibraltar late morning, its adversaries are still battling upwind on the approach to the famous strait. Favouring a more inshore option in the opening hours of the race, Sébastien Josse and his crew are in third place in the MOD70 fleet this lunchtime, with a 65-mile deficit in relation to the leader. A substantial gap to close then, especially as Edmond de Rothschild is no longer benefiting from the same weather conditions as Oman Air, which is enjoying a steadier breeze. For the men of Gitana Team, who are neck and neck with Virbac Paprec, the aim is to retain their third place over the 300 miles left to go before they make the River Tagus, where the finish will be decided. However, if an opportunity to attack the head of the fleet presents itself, the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild certainly won’t let it slip through his fingers.

 A few hours before setting off on the first leg, Sébastien Josse made no secret of his concern about the weather situation for the start of the race: The situation is very unstable and it’s pretty stressful as we know that in these conditions, it can be a bit of a bazaar and that’s just where you can end up with some big deficits between multihulls.” Unfortunately, the fears expressed by the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild have been confirmed. Second at the Benicarlo mark on Sunday evening, eight minutes shy of Oman Air, the trimaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild saw the Omani one-design make good its escape thanks to its more easterly positioning as the fleet made towards Cabo de la Nau. This positioning has enabled Sidney Gavignet and his crew to hold onto more pressure than their rivals inshore and thus extend their lead. 

“With the forecast weather conditions, those at the front will take off,” Charles Caudrelier warned. Even though, true to form, the Mediterranean had its fair share of surprises in store with different winds to those announced on the grib files, the general pattern has been respected. In this way, Oman Air’s slight separation in the opening hours has continued to increase, to the detriment of its pursuers.

Third at the 1000 GMT position report, Edmond de Rothschild is currently zigzagging her way towards the Strait of Gibraltar, which she’s set to reach this afternoon. Will Sébastien Josse and his navigator, Charles Caudrelier, opt to follow the Spanish coast or hug the Moroccan shore instead? It should be noted that there is a TSS – Traffic Separation System – in force in the strait, forcing the competitors to choose their camp to the North or the South in advance, as they aren’t allowed to traverse the central lane which is reserved for cargo ships. 

With regard the ETA, the frontrunners are expected into Lisbon tomorrow afternoon, on Wednesday 12 June. In the meantime however, the Route des Princes fleet will have to negotiate the upcoming weather situation as best they can, with the wind expected to ease tonight before picking up to a moderate north-westerly breeze.

Sébastien Josse, contacted by phone this lunchtime:

“We were expecting a Mediterranean-style leg and that’s what we’ve got. The deficits that are evident today took form on the very first night, as we approached Cabo de la Nau. It’s pretty annoying as we were right in the thick of it at the head of the fleet. While Virbac, Spindrift and ourselves decided to stick to the coast, the wind picked up offshore, which wasn’t forecast at all. At Cabo de la Nau it’s like Gibraltar, there’s a TSS to be respected, which explains the rather clear-cut routes between the inshore group and Oman. Inshore, conditions were very random and some, like Spindrift, managed to power up again in a gust, whilst some of the others, like us, got stuck fast! That’s the name of the game: you always need an element of luck on your side and it didn’t shine on us this time.

We’re just going to have to grin and bear it for now. Given our lateness, we have less wind than our rivals at the head of the fleet and we’re punching tide now to boot! We should pass Gibraltar in 4 hours’ time. This evening we’ll have some fairly light north-westerly wind, which will build as we approach Cape Saint Vincent. More upwind sailing then! And that’s not the last of it, as a northerly wind is forecast after Saint Vincent…

After the first night, which called for a great deal of manoeuvring on deck, the crew was very tired, but last night gave us a chance to recharge our batteries so as we’re fully on the attack for the next stage of the leg. We’re going to need a clear head but failing an underhand trick, which doesn’t appear to be on the cards, Oman will be uncatchable. Things are still open for catching up with Spindrift, but clearly our current aim is to keep Virbac in our wake so we can hang onto third place.”

Ranking on 11 June 2013 at 1000 (GMT)
  1. Musandam – Oman Air (Sidney Gavignet) 273.7 miles from the goal
  2. Spindrift Racing (Yann Guichard) 22.4 miles behind the leader
  3. Edmond de Rothschild (Sébastien Josse) 65.7 miles behind the leader
  4. Virbac Paprec 70 (Jean-Pierre Dick) 70.3 miles behind the leader
The crew of Edmond de Rothschild in the offshore 1

Sébastien Josse / Charles Caudrelier / Thomas Rouxel / Olivier Douillard / Jean-Christophe Mourniac / Florent Chastel

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