MOD70 European Tour Leg 4 – Omani crew extend lead

Omani Sail - MOD70 European Tour 2012
MOD70 European Tour Leg 4, from Cascais to Marseille, is currently underway. Since pulling into the lead around midnight last night when they were the first to gybe east to pass Cape St. Vincent, Musandam-Oman Sail has continued to make the best of the difficult conditions compared to her rivals today. As a result, while lying midway across the Bay of Cadiz at the 1230 UTC sched, the Omani crew had extended to 17.6 miles ahead of second placed Race for Water, by far the biggest lead a boat has managed pull out so far in the whole of the 2012 MOD70 European Tour.

'Last night at the tip of Cape St. Vincent, the breeze began to drop,' reported Gavignet. 'We tried to play the wind shifts, to find the right angle to go from puff to puff and that paid - we immediately pulled out a small gap on the other boats.'

For all five MOD70 crews, the early hours of this morning were taxing as they repeatedly gybed southeast to make the most of the shifts, while also attempting to extract themselves from the southeast corner of a ridge of high pressure converging with the west coast of Portugal.

But once again the Omani MOD70 crew made the boldest tactical move, carrying on east into the Bay of Cadiz and soon were being chased by their four rivals. At around midday with the breeze dying ahead of her, Musandam-Oman Sail was the only boat to put in a hitch south. At the time of the 1230 UTC sched, when Gavignet reported they were sailing upwind in 14 knot southeasterlies, Musandam-Oman Sail had not only pulled out her impressive lead, but was sailing at least five knots faster than the boats to her north, or consistently three knots faster than second placed Race for Water over the previous three hours.

While the Omani team’s performance is impressive there will be no opportunity to rest on their laurels for conditions ahead are set to get much more troublesome. At the 1230 UTC sched Musandam-Oman Sail had 66 miles to go before she entered the Strait of Gibraltar and conditions looked set to remain upwind all the way there. As Gavignet forecast: 'We should keep this easterly wind until the approach to Gibraltar early this evening, when it will become very light. And in the Alboran Sea, it will be even lighter!'

With Race For Water holding second, at present the two boats at the bottom of the MOD70 European Tour’s overall scoreboard are leading what seems likely to be a snakes and ladders leg to Marseille.

Behind the leaders the race for third remains as tight as we have come to expect in this anti-clockwise lap of the European coastline between the 70ft one design trimarans with just two miles separating overall leader Foncia in third from fifth placed Spindrift racing.

As Foncia skipper, double Vendee Globe winner Michel Desjoyeaux, summarised this afternoon: 'At the moment, things are complicated, the wind is not as forecast, so we are very indecisive! Fortunately, we have two rivals to play with, and strong rivals at that, with Gitana [Groupe Edmond de Rothschild] ahead and Spindrift [racing] breathing down our neck... There is still a way to go with a number of transitions ahead to negotiate, which will deliver their share of surprises...'

As the boats reach the Strait of Gibraltar this evening, the southeast wind is forecast to drop off leaving the trimarans at the mercy of the currents as they attempt to avoid the traffic separation schemes and the heavy commercial maritime traffic passing through these restricted waters. And then into the Alboran Sea, to the east of the Strait, the wind is set to disappear altogether tomorrow.

17.6 miles is a useful cushion for Sidney Gavignet and his crew, but with this forecast it means little.

Jean-François Cuzon, navigator aboard Musandam, Oman Sail: 'Last night, off Cape St. Vincent, the breeze began to die. On board, we tried to play the shifts to find the right angle to go between the puffs and that paid - we immediately pulled out a small lead ahead of the other boats. After that, there was a choice that was not easy to take this morning with a depression coming from Morocco. Now we are the other side of the this on a route closer to Gibraltar. The wind is close to 14 knots, there is a slight swell, but we are progressing well. We should keep this easterly wind until we approach Gibraltar early this evening, when it will become very soft. And into the Alboran Sea, it will be even softer! Conclusion: those behind may catch us up. The conditions are mild, but it requires a lot of attention trimming the boat. All the time we are monitoring our tactics to find the right angle, and make sure we are on the right track. Last night I did not sleep much. I was pretty alert to try to make us of the slightest breeze. We are happy to be in front, but we know very well that the advantage can also come from behind and we might start afresh in Gibraltar. Of course we'd rather be where we are than behind! We will try to sail the best we can and see what comes of it.'

Michel Desjoyeaux, Skipper aboard Foncia reports: 'Whilst the start was not great, we got out quite well because the short inshore course gave us a valuable bonus point (always good to gain!) We headed offshore to pick up a nice westerly breeze. Then it was the fight with Race for Water, who we ended up overtaking to lead overall. The lead was short-lived as Race For Water and Musandam-Oman Sail took a more favourable tack to round Cape St. Vincent during the night (it's not very polite of them, is not it?) and as a result got away. For the moment, things are complicated, the wind is not that which was forecast, so, we are very indecisive! Fortunately, we have two rivals to play with, and strong rivals at that with Gitana ahead and Spindrift breathing down our neck... There is still a way to go with a number of transitions to negotiate ahead, which will deliver their share of surprises...

This fourth stage starts well!'

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