On Tuesday morning, the two Gitanas were sailing well within themselves in the middle of the Channel, while trying to take advantage of every variation of a light to moderate westerly breeze.
The first few hours of racing were marked by damp, cool and lively conditions, with a southerly wind veering south-west, at five, ten, thirteen, then twelve knots … It necessitated a continual presence on deck to trim and change the sails, watch out for cargo vessels, navigate between sandbanks and negotiate the tidal currents… But the two Gitana Team crews couldn't hide their pleasure at being back on the water and competing on this 2,650-mile course, which promises to be varied to say the least. Already on this Tuesday morning, the fleet of six trimarans had split into two groups after passing Pas de Calais. In a 10-15-knot westerly flow, Groupama 2 and Banque Populaire opted to hug the English coastline, while Géant and the two Gitanas chose to head towards the Normandy beaches, with Sopra Group having already fallen slightly behind.
But let's not delude ourselves: as dictated by changes in the wind direction, the boats are more than likely going to meet again in the middle of the morning in the ocean off Le Havre, before heading for the Channel Islands. And in the words of Mayeul Riffet, the Gitana 12 navigator contacted around 09:00: “the difficult bit coming up is around Cherbourg, where a ridge of high pressure is in the process of forming on the Cotentin peninsula and the wind is going to drop. It will be essential to find out quite quickly if we need to cross through this bubble or go around it, because our range of options is limited by the coasts.” Coastal effects, Channel effects, current effects, wind effects… there's a strong chance that these early hours of the race could have a decisive effect on the extent to which the trimarans are in a northerly position on entry to the Gulf of Gascony the following night. And this in turn will rapidly define each crew's strategy.
At the time of the midday radio chat, while Gitana 11 was uncontactable, onboard Gitana 12, the mood was upbeat after this exciting first night: “We're hyper-satisfied with the boat. It's making things completely different for us compared with last year. It's absolutely fantastic to see how all the work done over the winter is enabling us to hold our own with Banque Populaire, Géant and even Gitana 11!", enthused Mayeul Riffet over the airwaves.
The night time e-mails…
Frédéric Guilmin onboard Gitana 11:
“We knew when we left London that the conditions encountered would be difficult in the sense that the winds would be light and erratic at the start and in our faces after that. And let me assure you, we were not disappointed, so the forecasters got it right this time! As Tuesday morning approaches, we're impatiently waiting for the positions, because in such conditions, it's very hard to have an idea of the situation of our fellow competitors. I hope they haven't gone racing off ahead carried by the wind… In any case, we have done everything to make up the small gap that formed after the Long Sand Head marker buoy, where our speed was in a trough for an hour. At this moment (at 06:45 French time), we are on the starboard tack close-hauled beneath the route, in a 14-knot southwest flow. Everything is going well.”
Nicolas Raynaud onboard Gitana 12:
“If it had been ten degrees warmer, I would have definitely been talking to you about a perfect first night. The North Sea in May is still a bit nippy, as we'd already noticed during the delivery to London. But fortunately, we've been warmed by the thrill of the race, as Banque Populaire has kept us on our toes all night. In that situation, you almost don't notice the chill on your face... So with the day dawning on entry to the Channel and Pas de Calais left in our wake, morale onboard is excellent. The exit from the Thames in a 508-knot wind with flying gennakers showed us that we had no reason to envy the others, apart from Groupama 2, which was totally at ease, as usual. Later, as forecast, the wind changed and we're currently (at 06:45 French time) close-hauled on a flat sea in a 10-12-knot southwester. We keep changing tack, and there's also a nice ridge of high pressure that we'll have to cross. To do so, the lad Mama, alias Mayeul Rifflet, has kicked me off the map table, as he has Grib files to process, and whatever we do, we mustn't upset an artist at work…”
Gitana 11 crew
Frédéric Le Peutrec (skipper-helmsman), Baron Benjamin de Rothschild (trimmer), Frédéric Guilmin (navigator), Daniel Souben (helmsman-trimmer), Ronan Le Goff (bowman), Antoine Mermod (pitman-trimmer)
Gitana 12 crew
Thierry Duprey du Vorsent (skipper-helmsman), Erwan Le Roux (helmsman-trimmer), Mayeul Riffet (navigator), Alexandre Marmorat (trimmer), Nicolas Raynaud (trimmer), Léopold Lucet (bowman)