Though the first offshore leg for the Route des Princes multihull race around Europe is set to cover some 800 miles from Valencia to Lisbon – Portugal, the stage winner might well be decided before the fleet even leaves the Mediterranean.
With up to four successive transition zones predicted, the consensus among the skippers of the four MOD70’s prior to docking out from Valencia’s America’s Cup marina, the Marina Real Juan Carlos, was that this opening leg could well be decided in the Alboran Sea. Whichever crew then manages to escape to Gibraltar and beyond into the Atlantic could earn the biggest rewards.
From a spectacular start Sunday afternoon in 18-20kts of SW’ly wind, watched by thousands on the Malvarossa beach, it was Sidney Gavignet’s team on Oman Air – Musandam who built a significant margin around the six-mile circuit before leading away on the leg up to Benicarló with Edmond de Rothschild chasing in second.
In view of the forecast for a diminishing breeze the course for the Multi50’s has been reduced, missing out the short hook 60 miles NE to a turning buoy off Benicarló. This short first step to a laid buoy which was due to be set just 500 metres off the entrance to the port, amidst a messy area of confused light winds, may well prove to be the first chance for big gains and losses. Thereafter each of the capes on the descent of the Spanish coastline, De Le Nau, Palos and finally Gata can offer a new wind strength and direction. Strategic options are likely to be limited with most staying close to the coast looking for any advantage from thermal sea breeze activity by day.
For the MOD70’s there are two marks where one bonus point (effectively 2 as the offshore points count double the four first offshore legs) is awarded – at Benicarló and Gibraltar. The common cliché is that every point is vital, but many MOD70 crews still have fresh memories of the finale of last year’s European Tour, that Foncia won by only two points.
The vagaries of racing in the Mediterranean are legendary.“In the Mediterranean there is no strategy, you look at what is there and go straight!” reminds Charles Caudrelier, navigator on inshore series winner Edmond de Rothschild, who won the European tour navigating on Foncia. “Complicated is normal for the Mediterranean,” Adds Sidney Gavignet, skipper of Oman-Air Musandam.
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The first to emerge from Benicarló should gain, extending into better breeze but then a compression is expected later on Monday. With the winds set to drop after the brisk, adrenalin fuelled start, particularly in the Alboran Sea progress is likely to be slow and patience and concentration will be vital attributes. Almost all of the first leg is set to be upwind with the breeze from Cabo de Gata to Gibraltar likely to be less than eight knots for much of the time. And, as the present forecasts stand, after Cape Saint Vincent at the SW corner of Portugal, the climb to Lisbon should be yet more upwind work but relatively straightforward. Only the finish into Lisbon’s Tagus River might offer a final slowdown.
The leg is expected to take between three and a half and four days, perhaps finishing between late on the night of Wednesday and into Thursday.
The MOD70 class established a reputation for very close racing during last season. But this opening leg, with a series of extension, compression, extension might not be the same.
Offshore and ocean racing talent is spread evenly through a star studded MOD70 fleet. Skipper of last year’s Multi One Champions Spindrift Yann Guichard was not shy about describing Edmond de Rothschild as ‘favourites’ when he arrived in Valencia hot foot from Geneva where he was racing the D35 Ladycat. Sébastien Josse’s Edmond de Rothschild team, who won the inshore series in Valencia have added to their team, including Volvo Ocean race winner Caudrelier as navigator this season. Jean-Pierre Dick has both Route du Rhum winner Roland Jourdain and Vendée Globe champion Vincent Riou on board Virbac-Paprec 70, whilst navigator Neal McDonald, Damian Foxall and skipper Sidney Gavignet on Oman Air –Musandam have between them completed 17 racing laps of the planet.
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Some figures from Valencia – 5th to 9th July
More than 45,000 people visit Route des Princes in Valencia
Peak over week-end of over 25,000
500 School children visits
120 Staff and organisation
80 Team members
150 Accredited media
2,000 Enjoy giant paella today
Yann Guichard skipper Spindrift: “It is the Mediterranean Sea and so anything can happen. It will be really interesting. There will be transitions at every cape, at every corner, different winds and different conditions and so it will be a good challenge for the navigators on board. It will be a lot of upwind sailing.”
Charles Caudrelier, navigator Edmond de Rothschild: “The weather forecast is complicated. We are in the Mediterranean, the winds are very light for the first night and you never really know what will happen, where the wind will come. After Gibraltar it will be easier. Up to Benicarló it will be spectacularly beautiful but we will lose the wind very quickly and we have to manage to cross a very small low pressure cell when it will be very complicated as we don’t know the speed of the low pressure and we have to decide which side we want to pass. That is the difficult for the first 60 miles and then after that in the night it will be light winds and it will be complicated to get down to the stronger winds which will be to the south of Cape de la Nau which is 30 miles to the south of Valencia. I think after that in the Alboran Sea we will be upwind and the wind will not be very strong, some W’ly winds. The winds will drop steadily.
In the Mediterranean there is no strategy, you look at what is there and go straight! In Gibraltar it is complicated because you the DSS (traffic management system) and you can go inside but it is a very tight passage. There is a lot of current and very light winds so it might be difficult.
For the moment up the Portuguese coast it will N’ly 15knots and there might be the chance to play with the land effects a little bit but it will be easier if you can pass Cape St Vincent first. There might be very big gaps develop as the first 36 hours will be very light.
Pascal Bidégorry, navigator, Spindrift: “ We will have a lot of tacking to do upwind. It will get lighter after the start and at the end. The first few hours will be quite sporty but then we don’t really know how far the SW’ly will take us up the course but then there is a good chance that the breeze will drop overnight, so we will have to be very patient. We need to focus really hard and apply ourselves to get up to Benicarló because whoever gets into the Alboran Sea will have an advantage, which can grow after Gibraltar. After that it will be easy. The first 24 hours we need to just sail really well and be amongst the leaders to hit the SW’ly winds again first. We can’t just rely on the weather files we have to use our heads and what we see. We need to keep our eyes wide open and our wits about us.”
Sidney Gavignet, skipper Oman-Air-Musandam: “ It is the Mediterranean. Complicated is normal for the Mediterranean. To Benicarló which is 50 miles north of Valencia will be quite difficult because there is a N’ly wind on the land and from we leave Valencia with a W’ly turning SW’ly you can then understand that there is a point where it will get messy and in fact it looks like it will be at that buoy, which is interesting because there is one point up for grabs there – coefficient 2 – so it will be tricky but fun. And then the first one to get out of there will stretch but will then be first to be caught in the Alboran where it will be light but from Gibraltar whoever is there first will stretch and probably win, then it is pretty straightforward. And there is a point to be won at Gibraltar too, so those two points will be awarded at tricky places, both in light winds. From Gibraltar it will be a rich get richer scenario. There is no taking risks or being conservative, it is just about making the best out of what we think we understand.”
Jean-Pierre Dick skipper Virbac-Paprec 3: “ It is going to be a very complicated leg with no one single strategy, lots of decision making with many difficult points to pass, the first one being tonight passing Benicarló which could be a bit of a nightmare for everyone where it could be good or very bad depending. It will be good to be patient. Then each of the capes will bring something new, de la Nau, Palos and Cabo de Gata. And by the time we get to Gibraltar it will be pretty clear, whoever gets there out of Gibraltar first should have a good chance to win the leg. I will be navigator but will work within a watch so it will be pretty tiring for me, so we will share the work a bit with Vincent (Riou) also. I learn the Mediterranean as I get older, but it helps to have two done Barcelona races, the Europa Warm’Up last year when we won the leg from Barcelona to Cascais, so that can be a good sign, but you cannot win every time”
Yves Le Blevec, skipper Actual: “We will always be upwind. It is very strange because at the start we go south, then west then north and always it will be upwind. I don’t think we will be able to ease the sheets for very long at any time. There will be many options, every new weather file might be different and so we make our strategy as we go along. There are many different things that can happen. We are all very happy to go racing after one week in Valencia with great people and a nice welcome.”
La Route des Princes
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