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Brest Atlantiques Day 21: MACIF take an alternative route

by Sabina Mollart-Rogerson 25 Nov 2019 19:21 GMT 25 November 2019
Macif - Brest Atlantiques Day 21 © Jérémie Eloy / Macif

After almost three weeks at sea, the three trimarans still racing on Brest Atlantiques are continuing towards the equator, which they should cross on Thursday.

While all the teams have followed a fairly similar route until now, MACIF yesterday decided to head in a more westerly direction, a decision which François Gabart and Gwénolé Gahinet hope will benefit them by the end of the week.

It's now really time to think about strategy for the rest of the race, not only for the teams on board, who are continuing their ascent on the South Atlantic, but also for their routing experts on land: Marcel Van Triest for Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, Christian Dumard for Actual Leader and Jean-Yves Bernot for MACIF. At 3pm today, MACIF were 650 miles behind the current leader, Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. Choosing to sail in a more westerly direction, 90 degrees from the direct route, could eventually prove to be to their advantage.

In a video sent by the media man Jérémie Eloy, the two skippers explained their decision: "We were faced with two options: the first, to sail almost directly north downwind in fairly calm conditions, which is what our competitors have done, and the second, to cross a high pressure zone in the search of stronger winds. Our aim was to cross this front and make progress sailing towards the west, and then pick up the trade wind again from a better angle. Although it's more complicated, with more manoeuvres and sail changes, this route seems like it will be faster. But it's all about taking risks and this is the first time since leaving Brest that we've really changed our strategy. This makes it more exciting and adds suspense to the race."

Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, who at 3pm today had a 245 mile lead over Actual Leader, are looking closely at the route MACIF are now following, as Franck Cammas said to media man Yann Riou: "We saw MACIF gybe and head southwest. Obviously, they're now on a totally different route from everyone else. There's a front about 1,000 miles away from us, which, if they manage to cross through and come out the other side, may allow them to get ahead. That said, it's not going to be a simple route, they're going to have to work hard!"

He continues, now talking about their own route: "MACIF's alternative route doesn't change anything for us, we're not in the same place at the same time and the best route for them may not necessarily be the same for us. It's not worth following their decision to head southwest." All will be revealed by the end of the week....

To find all the videos from on board and also ashore, please go to the Brest Atlantiques YouTube channel.

All roads lead to the equator

Late yesterday, Franck Cammas was explaining the latest meteorological and strategic situation in front of Yann Riou's camera as the crew embarks on this second section of the climb up the South Atlantic.

"We saw on the rankings that Macif had gybed twice with a median course to the south-west. Gybing in this spot clearly signified that it was taking a completely different option to the one that everyone had appeared to be on for several days... namely the one we're on and which Actual is also in the process of following." The skipper's suppositions have since been confirmed.

"There's a front bordering our zone (note: 'bordering our zone' is just a figure of speech since it is 1,000 miles from the position of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild) and once that rolls through we will have a SSW'ly breeze off the back of it. For sure, one of the models shows the optimum course as passing through this front and hence really heading a long way off the direct course we're currently on. It's going to have its work cut out on that course as it's far from easy," assured the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild. "It makes no difference though to us. We're not in the same place as him, at the same time, so our optimum course is different to his."

Biding one's time

The South Atlantic and the Saint Helena High certainly hasn't let the sailors competing in this 1st edition of the Brest Atlantiques off lightly!

Indeed, during the descent between Rio and Cape Town, the northerly rounding of a fine depression and the positioning of the high pressure a long way south had already made life difficult for them. As such, the fleet had hoped they'd already paid their dues...

However, this was without taking into account the scenario put forward by the Saint Helena High - yet again! - on the homeward passage: "It's not quick! The centre of the anticyclone is currently situated 660 miles to the North-West of Cape Town, so it's not in its normal position and is not very solid at 1021 hPa. Towards Brazil, there's a low-pressure front that has formed and is dropping towards the forties and South Africa. The combination of these two phenomena is causing a complete rupture of the SE'ly trade winds. This in turn is making our progress towards the equator quite long! We're set to get back into the northern hemisphere on Wednesday night through into Thursday", explained Marcel van Triest, router for Gitana Team.

It is possible to helm one of the fastest boats on the planet, but when the weather conditions are not lined up to enable a quick passage towards the goal, there's no other option than to bide your time and above all make the most of any opportunities offered up by the variations in the breeze throughout the day.

This is a notion that Franck Cammas never forgets: "Part of the appeal of offshore racing is that it's not just a drag race... even if going quick often helps. Offshore racing is primarily all about weather and strategy. There are a lot more gains to be made thanks to weather choices. It's like a game of chess with things you don't always control. Even though there's a lot of theory involved, in practice it's about sensitivity and experience and a human touch, all of which colour the strategic choices."

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