Time to batten down the hatches in The Transat bakerly

I have my battle plan in the bag as we near the depression


Even the mouse on St Michel-Virbac goes into hiding as the storm hits....

At the beginning of the fifth day at sea in The Transat bakerly, the majority of the remaining 21 skippers still in the race are battling a fierce Atlantic depression that is producing gale force winds and big seas.

This is the moment the skippers have been preparing for the last 36 hours and all of those who have been in contact have talked of trying to get through the next day or so without damaging their boat.

In the IMOCA 60 class the contest has turned into a match race in the north between Armel le Cleac’h on Banque Populaire and Vincent Riou on PRB who are just a few miles apart, with Le Cleac’h just ahead as they reach in strong northerlies.

One hundred and eighty miles south of them Jean-Pierre Dick on St Michel-Virbac is seeking a slightly easier route just north of the Azores, while 350 miles further south - and south of the islands - Paul Meilhat on SMA is doing his best to get out of the way of the system altogether.

Dick is an experienced campaigner and on his boat he has even put his computer mouse away, the better to stop it flying around his cabin during a storm during which he expects winds of up to 50 knots. “The sailing conditions are not very pleasant, the sea state is hell!” he reported. “In a few hours the wind will rise and we will face the strongest gales. I hope it’s OK. We’re looking at 10 hours of difficult weather.

“There are many things to check on board when faced with these difficult and risky conditions. I have tidied up St Michel-Virbac – bags and sails are stowed away, the keyboard is away, the headsail is well wrapped and, finally, I have stashed the mouse at the chart table.”

Further north and east of the IMOCAs, the tight battle at the head of the Class40 monohulls is continuing with just a few miles separating Thibaut Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires En Peloton-ARSEP in first place, Britain’s Phil Sharp in second on Imerys and Louis Duc on Carac in third. The trio are about 600 miles southwest of Cork and are careering downwind in big following seas.

Just before entering the full force of the depression, Sharp reported that he had been up his mast to retrieve a spinnaker halyard and got bashed about quite a lot, even though the sea was relatively calm at the time. He also reported that his medium spinnaker had shredded itself and was irreparable.

“I am currently trying to get some rest ahead of tonight’s storm,” he said earlier. “The wind will go to over 40 knots constant and gusting 50 or more. So I am pretty anxious about the conditions ahead – the important thing is to be prepared for it, keep safe and keep the boat in one piece. But it is difficult to know what we can expect.”

In eighth place on board Nivea is Anna-Maria Renken, one of two female sailors in The Transat bakerly fleet, reported in today for the first time since the start. “There has been no news so far because I have been busy concentrating on my first solo transatlantic race…it uses up a lot of mental energy,” she said. “I’ve been exhausted, even though the conditions so far have been fair. I’ve managed to get things sorted in my head a bit now, and it’s going better.

“I have my battle plan in the bag as we near the depression,” she added. “I have eaten a lot - I’m eating like a farmer because of the amount of calories I’m burning up on the boat, as many as 10,000 over 24 hours. It’s been fun to talk with my competitors on the VHF (radio). The race has been good and, voila, very fast!”

A bit like the IMOCA fleet, the Multi50s are now split with the leader, Lalou Roucayrol on Arkema 335 miles north of second-placed Gilles Lamire on Frenchtech Rennes St Malo.

Meanwhile the Ultime battle between Thomas Coville on Sodebo and Francois Gabart on Macif continues to rage in the deep south, with Gabart, in his newer machine, taking advantage of a light patch to steal a margin of 56 miles over his rival for a class win and race line honours.

“It’s a great duel with Thomas,” reported Gabart. “This is what we came for…but The Transat bakerly is no longer what it was (waves, icebergs, biting winds). I’m in crocs and shorts! Considering the size of the Atlantic, how close we are is ridiculous!”

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