Isabelle Joschke (Synergie) leads Cap Istanbul

A stormy low is this Sunday manhandling the fleet of the 'European Capital of Culture - Cap Istanbul', who have been ordered to submit to a beat across a moody Ionian Sea. The NNE’ly wind - 30 knots established, gusting to 35 - has escalated. The solo sailors are battening down the hatches this afternoon, but continue to make headway towards Antikythira, an island situated to the north-west of Crete and a compulsory passage mark on the way to Aghios Nikolaos and the end of this third leg.

Experienced in ocean racing and rough conditions, young Isabelle Joschke (Synergie) has got back with the leading group. Better than that though, she is currently in pole position in lumpy seas. Bravo…

To the south of the 36th parallel, conditions have deteriorated as time has gone by. The stormy Mediterranean lows have nothing to be envious about as regards their autumnal cousins on the Atlantic coast. Violent and brutal, they have some nasty quirks to them, including increasing in size without the knowledge of the forecasts. The storm which has scooped up the fleet this Sunday evidently came without warning.

It is 0800 hours, there is an 18-20 knot breeze and the sun has just momentarily pierced through the thick cloud mass. At 35°25 north and 19°54 east two one designs emerge. They are neck and neck, making headway just a few boat lengths apart, caught in the throes of an ill tempered Ionian Sea. The two battling protagonists are François Gabart (Espoir Région Bretagne) and Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert), who are 4th and 5th in the latest ranking: they’re at the front of the fleet in this third leg between Sicily and Crete.

Gildas Morvan, sets the scene when contacted by VHF: 'I came here for the sun and the land and seascapes. They’ve made a mistake on this voyage; I didn’t expect to find myself back in Brittany! (laughs) Seriously though, last night was very hard in some fairly difficult sailing conditions; in fact it was pretty hellish. We were expecting to have more of a WSW’ly but instead we’re making headway on a beat with the wind on the nose. It’s still not easy to know what’s going to happen. All’s well on board though, the S’ly option has worked out quite well. I’m satisfied with my position and I’m in good company to get the boat making headway as quickly as possible.'

Gildas and François are now hot on the heels of Isabelle Joschke (Synergie), who is clearly plucky and has certainly been in such a situation before. Originating from the Mini 6.50 circuit, Isabelle is contesting her very first season at the helm of a Figaro Bénéteau. At 31, driven by a fiercely competitive spirit and boosted by some solid offshore experience, she hasn’t hung about in sharpening her talent. She took control of the fleet overnight and has since contained a fine group of big names in the breeze: Thierry Chabagny (Suzuki Automobiles), Erwan Tabarly (Athema) as well as Gildas Morvan. Among her immediate pursuers is Jeanne Grégoire (Banque Populaire), who is well known for her ability to pull off a coup at the helm of her one design.

However, a more pressing threat right now has been powering in from the north for a few hours. This threat comes in the form of the small group which have been favouring the zone around the direct route rather than tempting their fate with a more radical option in the Mediterranean. They’re currently benefiting from conditions which are now preventing the rest of the fleet from getting away from them. Better still, they have now left the murky shallows of the ranking and have adopted a more favourable position for making a comeback.

At the 1600 hour ranking, Christopher Pratt (DCNS 97), Nicolas Troussel (Financo), Romain Attanasio (DCNS 62), Marc Emig (Capitol), as well as Gildas Mahé (Le Comptoir Immobilier) look to be in much better shape and have already reduced their deficit to around ten miles.

Boosted by a more favourable angle to the wind with sheets eased, they’re now making 7-7.5 knots of headway, whilst Isabelle and her closest pursuers are displaying speeds in the order of 6-6.5 knots. Undoubtedly, a gridlock or two are likely as the fleet pass the Antikythira gate, but the frontrunners are set to round it early tomorrow morning. Another day…