The southern gamble - Cap Istanbul

Cap Istanbul Race Route

Setting out from Marzamemi in Sicily yesterday, the fleet participating in the 'European Capital of Culture – Cap Istanbul' headed eastwards towards Crete.

On the uncertain waters of the Ionian Sea, the 28 solo sailors, in search of an established wind, are scattered every which way in terms of latitude. Some have taken a direct route, whilst other more impetuous sailors have plunged initially and are clearly hoping to make good gains to the south. From the middle of the first night, Thierry Chabagny (Suzuki Automobiles), followed by Erwan Tabarly (Athema) and Gildas Morvan (Cercle Vert) have been reaping the benefits of this initial option in the Ionian Sea…

Let’s split! Barely had they made it into the Ionian Sea which separates Italy from Greece than the 28 solo sailors engaged in the most oceanic leg of this Cap Istanbul broke ranks to gain separation in terms of latitude. In this little game of lateral dispersal, two groups have formed. On the one side are those who are close to the direct route and don’t want to take too many risks in what has already proven to be a very varied Mediterranean. On the other, 50 miles lower down, the most opportunist skippers are making good their escape at present after seeing and believing in the more established downwind conditions, which are favourable for enabling the boats to slip along nicely towards the east of this Ionian Sea and its so dreaded calms.

On the water, the big question is where the wind Gods are secreting their calms. Indeed, once again the reality on the water is very different to the forecast which announced easing wind at worst and a risk of persistent calms. For the time being though this doesn’t seem to be the case. The morning ranking remains on its guard however and is divided between the two camps in no particular order: one of the proudest southern representatives is currently in the lead, tailed 5 miles astern in relation to the goal by Fred Duthil on Distinxion Automobile, who is close to the great circle route. The latter is playing it carefully with both vigilance and perseverance faced with the uncertainties of the weather.

'We don’t really know what the weather’s going to do. It is very random and just a few metres separation can make all the difference as regards whether or not there is the same wind for a fellow sailor. I chose to favour the direct course as I couldn’t really see what there was to hunt down to the south. We’ll soon see what they’ve found. This race will be indecisive right through to the end. I’m trying to make headway without wondering too much whether it’s the right thing to do and above all be more philosophical…', he confided as we passed him on the water. At the end of the morning, the wind began to play up, heading and easing as the sky gradually filled with cumulonimbus, evidence of a high cloud activity with the return of steadier downwind conditions. The result is a small light patch! Distinxion Automobile’s speed drops to 2 knots. A few hours later, he’s got out his orange and blue spinnaker and is making 9 knots, but has already lost ground on the southern group who are disappearing over the horizon. The 1600 hour ranking confirms this. Fred Duthil has lost ten places in the battle. Marc Emig (Capitol), Gérald Veniard (Macif) as well as Gildas Mahé (Le Comptoir Immobilier), who have gone for the direct course, are now making headway at the rear of the fleet. One light patch and the damage is done!

Lower down, downwind of the fleet, Thierry Chabagny tells a very different story. This renowned poker player has kept his word and gone on the offensive. He has followed his instinct and has been on the attack from the outset. 'Since the start, I wanted to favour this S’ly course which seemed to me to be safer in terms of the wind strength. As we expected to traverse some zones of light wind across the route, I opted to dive southwards into more pressure' he confides. He goes on to add: 'Last night, I stayed on a direct course for a while, that’s why I’m leading now I think. We always say in the Mediterranean that you shouldn’t invest too much as we can never be sure of the result. Before nightfall we’ll see how things are going, but I have more of a tendency to watch racers like Erwan Tabarly, who are to my right and further south than me, rather than those who are on a direct course but in a lighter wind. It’s always better to make headway and it’s still rather pleasant here with nice conditions despite the storms last night.'

Quotes from the Boats

Jeanne Grégoire (Banque Populaire).
'Conditions are fairly pleasant. We have nearly 20 knots of breeze on a downwind point of sail. For the time being I’m on the right side. In fact, I took the S’ly route for another good reason: to avoid being becalmed! I didn’t know it was going to work as well as it has. We’ve already avoided 130 miles on the clock and that’s already a winning move! I got a flying fish right in the face. I’d just gybed and I was settling myself back at the helm to reposition the boat and something amazingly violent hit my left cheek. I didn’t think there were flying fish here, but I realise that at 35° south we’re at the same latitude as Madeira.'

Eric Peron (L’esprit d’équipe). 'I got a fair amount of sleep during the first night and that’s a positive thing as regards the calm which is continuing to threaten us. I always find it a bit difficult to go by what’s forecast and not forecast. You make do with what you have, there’s no plan, no strategy. My goal is to do the best I can with what I’ve got. I’ve tried to stay in the middle so as not to distance myself too much from the direct course. We’re remaining fairly reliant on the weather we encounter and we’re not necessarily where we want to be so a little of our current position is down to luck.'