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Les Sables Horta, a leader and a fleet almost tied in the Azores

© Vincent ollivaud / Les Sables Horta 2023
© Vincent ollivaud / Les Sables Horta 2023

The first leg of the 9th edition of Les Sables - Horta - Les Sables promised to be both rich and complex, with a wide variety of conditions and a tricky finish in the heart of the Azores archipelago. It lived up to all its promises, with a ridge of high pressure crossing the Bay of Biscay, a downwind slide at supersonic speeds and, at the end of it all, a new record for the greatest distance covered in 24 hours in a Class40, followed by some high-voltage final miles between the islands. The race was hotly contested from start to finish, with a number of changes in the leaders but also a tightening of the pack shortly before landing in Horta, and finally crowned Alberto Bona and Pablo Santurde del Arco. After a perfectly controlled trajectory, the IBSA co-skippers took victory on the evening of Sunday 2nd July, shortly before 21h30 (Paris time), with a lead of 1h37 over their closest pursuers when, behind them, the main pack arrived in a flurry!

On paper, even before the start, this first leg of the Les Sables - Horta race promised to be broken down into three stages, with the crossing of a ridge of high pressure in the Bay of Biscay, an extremely fast downwind section off Cape Finisterre and then a final, possibly very uncertain section between the Azores islands. In reality, the race unfolded in much the same way and proved to be thrilling to follow and experience. "From the inside, it was fascinating. It was really interesting to think about what was going to happen. It took a lot of time and energy to find the best route. The choices weren't easy to make," summed up Achille Nebout and Gildas Mahé (Amarris) on their arrival in Horta at the end of five days' racing. Five days during which different leaders took turns at the helm of the fleet, and the gaps were made and then broken. "Right up to the end, the situation was far from clear. It was very stressful", said Alberto Bona and Pablo Santurde del Arco (IBSA), who nevertheless managed to win with a lead of 1h37 over their runners-up. "We're happy because we sailed really well," explained the two sailors, whose trajectory was widely praised by the specialists, particularly when they had to make their way south of the high pressure and negotiate the landing on the Portuguese archipelago.

Tiny differences

"The further we got, the less wind we had. We opted to head back south in order to keep as much pressure as possible. It turned out to be a good option," explained the two acolytes, recent winners of the ROCR Caribbean 600 and third in the Défi Atlantique. "The forecast was for complete light airs at the finish. In the end, we had more air than forecast" These two crossed the line at 21h24, shortly before the wind collapsed between Pico and Faial. A weakening which, as you might expect, somewhat upset the hierarchy in the final lengths. "We knew things were going to happen when we landed in Horta. Two miles from the finish, we thought the wind was going to hold until the end, but it stopped dead in its tracks," explained Xavier Macaire (Groupe SNEF), who then saw the tension rise a notch before finally taking the lead, Mikaël Mergui and Antoine Carpentier (Centrakor), Aurélien Ducroz and Vincent Riou (Crosscall) and Achille Nebout and Gildas Mahé (Amarris), all three of whom finished within a minute of each other. "It really came down to nothing. In the end, it's almost as if we'd done a leg for nothing, because apart from IBSA, who had a slight advantage, we're almost all level on points. It's crazy", commented the title holders. Judge for yourself: behind the winner, eight duos arrived in the space of an hour. All of which promises to be a great match during the return leg, which is scheduled to kick off on 8 July!

Statements from all the skippers arriving in Horta : Actualités - Les Sables Horta (lessables-horta40.fr)

Leg 1 ranking: Les Sables - Horta - leg 1 - Class40

Source : LSOVCL

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