Yesterday, skipper Lionel Lemonchois and his nine-man crew successfully negotiated their way from an area of unstable winds to the southeasterly trades. The maxi-catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild is taking full advantage of the trade winds today. Under full sail—flying the full main and the big gennaker—Gitana 13 is using the breeze of around 15 knots to pick up the pace and open up its stride. The ten sailors could however face a weakening breeze in the next few days. “We've had to shift positions twice in search of a wind current running close to the coast. But with these maneuvers we quickly picked up the long-awaited southerly and then southeasterly winds! Given the forecast, we couldn't afford to hang around looking for the trade winds, since in recent days they have tended to lose strength,” said Dominic Vittet from the maxi-catamaran's map table.
In such tricky weather conditions, observations and decision-making are the responsibility of a trio comprising Lemonchois, Vittet and Sylvain Mondon from his Météo France office in Toulouse. Together, the three men decipher the situation and seek the best route for Gitana 13. Their modus operandi is described by Vittet, the onboard navigator (who is exempt from watch duty so that he can focus on optimizing the 33-meter catamaran's trajectory): “Sylvain sends all the files that we need for the weather (GRIB, isobar maps, satellite images...) directly to our onboard computer. After studying and analyzing the information, he proposes a route. Then Lionel and I determine our strategy in accordance with the information received and the actual conditions that we are experiencing on the boat.” As Lemonchois's route-finder during Gitana 11's victory on the Route du Rhum in 2006, Sylvain Mondon has an important advantage: he knows Gitana 13's skipper and can anticipate his intentions.
The cold and blustery weather has afforded little comfort to the ten men of Team Gitana over the past couple of weeks. Fortunately, in addition to offering a reaching breeze and the opportunity to ramp up the speed, the southern-hemisphere trade winds are synonymous with milder weather conditions: “As we make our way to San Francisco, the temperatures are rising, and that really makes a big difference. The boldest among us have already put on shorts. Yesterday the crew was allowed to shave, wash and dry. It was about time! After 26 days at sea the air onboard was getting a little thick...” said Vittet, with a smile.