The gloves are off! Since last night, speeds have been well and truly ratcheted up so that the averages are now oscillating between 16 and 26 knots as the trimarans head straight for the Azores archipelago. The reason for the change is a front from the north-west which is leaving a nice anticyclone in its wake: temperatures are going to drop significantly, but the wind will gradually rotate towards an easterly direction. What's more, this turbo-charged situation looks set to last until Thursday and beyond! Consequently, there are no real strategic or tactical options on the cards until the archipelago is passed around Wednesday evening, but there are important positioning issues in terms of negotiating the low-pressure front which will take hold over the Azores in the coming days. The soloists need to take up a sufficiently northerly course to benefit from a stronger downwind flow, but stay far enough south to touch on the low-pressure front in order to slip more easily along the Azores anticyclone swelling up behind, to the south of Newfoundland… It amounts to a delicate balancing act that suggests the current positions of the solo sailors are far from set in stone!
Indeed, this Tuesday morning sees differences in latitude of over sixty miles between the new leader, Michel Desjoyeaux, who has opted for a very northerly trajectory, and Lionel Lemonchois (Gitana 11), who has stayed closer to the direct (orthodromic) route, as has Thierry Duprey du Vorsent (Gitana 12). In fact, the fleet of trimarans remains highly bunched and the difficulty for the competitors now is coping with the stress generated by the unrelenting speed. According to the weather info, the wind will remain abeam (north-easterly) while reaching twenty knots and more amidst the squalls, which means sailing with one reef (or two) in the mainsail and gennaker up for hours… not to say days! This is precisely where the difficulty lies, as all the single-handed trimarans go at the same speed in these conditions, but the skipper has to remain watchful round the clock. The leaders should cover over 500 miles on this second day of the race and the Azores archipelago should be rounded to the north from Thursday morning… Consequently, the problem facing the solo sailors is keeping up a mounting rhythm (gradual acceleration up to more than 30 knots) over several days' racing, since strong leading winds are forecast… all the way to the finish in Guadeloupe !
Thierry Duprey du Vorsent (Gitana 12):
“01 :45: everything's going well, even if Monday was a bit testing due to the highly unstable wind force and direction, which meant that a lot of time had to be spent on the bridge. I'd expected the front to be a bit more powerful and I slowed down a bit too quickly… But at least it allowed me to have a siesta, which did me the world of good: now, I'm on the other side of the front and the wind should grow as the hours pass, allowing me to quickly slip onto the direct route towards the Azores!”