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TJVNLH, D+17 : The trade wind funnel

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With the passage this morning of Terre Exotique (Guiguen-Pinson) under the island of Sal in Cape Verde, the 43 Class40s of the Transat Jacques Vabre are now all on their way to the last passage point of the event, the Diamond Rock in Martinique. For the leading protagonists of a fleet still brilliantly led by the Franco-Spanish tandem of Redman, Antoine Carpentier and Pablo Santurde, it is the compression of the trade winds in latitude that regulates and orchestrates the rhythm of the race.

The Class40s are in fact sailing in a funnel, a bottleneck between two masses of high pressure, languishing in the north and south. In this corridor of less than 400 miles wide, an irregular wind blows, mostly from the East to the North East. Hence the frantic saraband of tacks, sometimes penalizing to the South West, sometimes favorable to the North West, which have marked these last few days of racing. The rankings are evolving, in the wake of the hard-to-defeat leader Redman, according to these gybes. Thus the girls on La Boulangère Bio, Marie Riou and Amélie Grassi have lost 5 places in the last few hours as a result of this penalizing but necessary tack to the South West. With less than 1,300 miles to go to the finish, this trade wind funnel is going to shrink and the trajectories will converge more and more clearly. The already narrow gaps will shrink at the front of the fleet, where no less than 18 boats are sailing within 130 miles of each other.

97 miles from the leader, Jean Galfione and Eric Péron made a stunning comeback to the front. Ranked 12th, they came back from far behind to join the great fight up front. The more the race goes on, the more the best boats are coming in for a final that promises to be breathtaking, as the gaps are so small and the density of boats and duos is so great. How will Redman continue to control his opponents, each one more formidable than the last, and now scattered over nearly 100 miles of latitude, from Crédit Mutuel (Lipinski-Pulvé) to the North, to Volvo (Gerckens-Hantzberg) to the South? The danger is everywhere and the attacks are constant. With less than 1,300 miles to go to the finish, it is now time to choose a position in this trade wind that is so irregular in strength and direction. Redman is investing today in the South, in order to be able to climb back up on starboard tack and with a good wind angle towards the Caribbean Arc in the next few days. He is thus opening the door to his rivals, but is betting on the long term by allowing himself a good capacity to accelerate at the end of the week. Provided they don't get out of the funnel!

Crosscall without spinnaker since the Canaries; "We lost the big spinnaker in a "crash" at the end of a big surf at the Canaries". Explains Aurélien Ducroz. "The part that holds the medium spinnaker at the top of the mast broke. Since then, we only have a very small spinnaker, which is not enough in the current conditions and to go to the West Indies. We're not going as fast, and we're not going the way we want!

Jonas Gerckens (Volvo): "Special dedication to Jean Galfione, our formidable competitor in Class 40; the indispensable element in transatlantic sailing is the pole! Yes, the pole, a necessary instrument to remove the sargasso crap that gets caught in the rudders!"

Quotes of the day:

Enguerrand Granoux - Exploring Tech for good

"In terms of discoveries, we had a great one! We discovered the sargassum! Small spherical shaped seaweeds, a kind of snowflake but seaweed version. We will have to check if these seaweeds come from the activity of the man but a priori there is more and more in the Atlantic. The problem is that sargassum gathers in more or less dense groups (the densest ones fill a layer 3 meters deep) and it can completely stop the boat! They form small spots on the water! Without wanting it, we crossed groups of sargassum, and each time after, we have to remove them because they get stuck in the rudders and the keel....With our lifting rudders it's easy but for the keel it's more difficult! You have to go backwards or make a heap start (lay the boat down). We prefer the heap start, it avoids lowering the spinnaker. Just before the night we took it without seeing it, then we notice that the boat is slower than what it should be of 10%, then we re-adjust all the boat but impossible to find the adjustment which would bring us to 100% of our theoretical performance! we check by plunging the GoPro in water and indeed, there are well algae in the keel. So we try to remove them... and the speed finally comes back! To tell you how much of a problem it is, we even get the satellite images to see where they are the densest and avoid those places in our trajectory!"

Antoine Carpentier - Redman

What a crazy day! That's it, we are finally heading southwest!  We had satellite connection problems that deprived us of our competitors' report positions, which is crucial for us, especially when we are at the head of the fleet and want to stay there. And as if that wasn't enough, it was impossible to download the weather forecast, in other words we were blind all day. I spent a good 4 hours on this m.... file, 4 hours not setting the boat, not steering, not sleeping. I think it made me hysterical, I'll have to go and see a doctor when I get there! So one day to settle computer problems and to remove the sargasso, today we were spoiled on this side too. The positive point is that we did not concede too much ground to our competitors, we receive again the positions of the competitors and we found a way to download a weather forecast, all that at the end of the afternoon. We're back in warrior mode, we're not going to give up anything!"

Pierre Louis Attwell - Vogue avec un Crohn

No news for a few days, and for good reason, not much is happening on the Atlantic at the moment. Well, that's not quite true! The weather is globally the same since the crossing of the Cape Verde Islands, it's nice, extremely warm and the sea is beautiful. 

The strategy is to play the small wind oscillations and the zones with more or less pressure that the computer files give us with more or less precision! So we are tearing our hair out on the computer to find the right way and it is not easy! Yesterday we made a choice, then we changed our mind, then we changed it again to finally take our initial route.  Result: 3 gybes in two hours and all the material of the boat (bags of matossage, water cans, sails etc...) to change side as many times, the whole by a blazing sun and a hellish heat. As much to say that we drink a lot of water at the moment! We meet a lot of algae which come to get stuck in the keel, in the propeller and in the rudders. So we spend a lot of time removing them so as not to slow down too much. And when the seaweed rod is not enough, we even found ourselves going backwards to get rid of it. We could stop and dive but an encounter with a shark yesterday doesn't encourage us too much to swim.. Too bad!" 

Cedric Chateau - Seafrigo Sogestran

"That's it! Our neurons are smoking, it feels like overheating! And one question and only one has been responsible for it for 36 hours: Should we follow the routing or stay with our friends!

Raaaah but it's not that simple and finally after 24 hours of extreme cogitation, last night, we had more confidence in the computer than in our direct competitors. The result is a gybe and a course to the south. I don't want to burden you with the ups and downs linked to this decision during the day (we should never have gybed, we got into the sargassum, we are upside down, etc...), but in the end, the whole fleet is now on the port side of the boat and it is not impossible that the situation will evolve to our advantage...Otherwise, this morning's drama on Seafrigo-Sogestran: the watermaker is no longer working. So, there is enough water left for me to reach Martinique, but I was more worried about Jérémie who only had one glass left. Already he is not very thick, if I bring him back dry to his parents, we will end up in an unpleasant relationship!…

Anyway, the watermaker is working again, Jérémie will be able to drink and his parents won't give up on giving me a Christmas present in December (@nathalie &@luc I'm sending you my list...)".

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