Foto Alex Pella Tales
Spanish skipper Alex Pella is closing the miles to the finish of La Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe with the prospect of victory in the hotly contested Classe 40 division growing with each hour. He is expected in Pointe a Pitre, Gaudeloupe during the night of Tuesday into Wednesday, from around 2200hrs local time (0200hrs Wed TU/0300hrs CET).
He would become the first solo Spanish skipper to win in the ten editions of the Route du Rhum, and at the same time would become the first Spanish sailor to triumph in a major solo ocean race. The 40ft class is one of the most international in the four-yearly race, Briton Phil Sharp winning in 18 days in 2006. France's Thomas Ruyant was quicker when he won in 2010 in 17days 23hrs 10m but Pella should be around 16 and a half days.
He has slipped into a slightly different weather system than his pursuers but remains a steady 100 miles ahead of second placed Thibaut Vauchel-Camus with 331 miles to sail at 1500hrs TU this Monday.
Pella's success would be celebrated in all areas of Spain. Although he started his sailing with his family - he is one of four sailing brothers - in Barcelona at the Real Club Nautico - the Class 40 which he races is based from Santander, home to the owner and the designer, and it was from there - in the NW of Spain - that he did all of his training alone prior to the start of the Route du Rhum. He aspires to take part in the next Vendee Globe.
As the fleet races down the Tropic of Capricorn so the nights become a little longer, even if many of the solo skippers were finally treated to some spectacular overnight sailing conditions also at this point - 15 days at sea - then the fatigue and stress become more deep rooted. An extra nap does not necessarily lift that feeling. The heat of the day is a double edge sword, it clears the humidity and damp but with that the stifling warmth adds to tiredness.
In eighth place Miranda Merron in the Class 40 fleet remarks that now are the days of her rewards for battling through the big weather of the first two days and nights, and more recently the incessant, infernal gybes required by the unstable trade winds which were peppered with squalls:
"This time two weeks ago, the fleet was "enjoying" the first night in a cold front in the English Channel. Nights like tonight make all the harder parts of the race worthwhile - beautiful, clear night, millions of stars. Occasional shooting stars. The fluorescent draft stripes in the mainsail are glowing in the dark. Not much wind, but the shift to the NE has arrived, and the boat is aligned in the direction of the waves. The interminable, infernal gybing has ceased for now." Merron wrote.
In Class 40 the finishing place of Yannick Bestaven will be affected by a 24 hours penalty which was applied on Sunday. Whilst manouevering downwind in tough conditions on the first night he was involved in a collision with South Africa's Philippa Hutton-Squire. The rig of her Class 40 was damaged and although she made it to port, the mast collapsed. Bestaven - who lies fourth - will have the time penalty added to his elapsed time.
There seems every chance that the two remaining IMOCA 60s - Alessandro di Benedetto (Team Plastique AFM Telethon) and Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiaitives Coeur) and Pella will reach the home stretch, from Basse Terre mark, in quick succession.
In the Rhum class Sir Robin Knox-Johnston is still in the fight for third although Andrea Mura, the 2010 class winner - has made some initial gain by heading south and was holding third, 17 miles ahead of the Briton who is fourth.
Kito de Pavant (Otio-Bastide Medical): "The Spaniard, he's making it really hard for us. He has made his getaway. He hopped onto a different weather system ahead of us and grabbed another 100 miles from us with more wind, and a better angle. There's nothing we can do or say about it....So, we can still get on the podium, but even that is far from guaranteed.
I'm keeping about the same distance from my unlucky companions. We should get more wind for the final two days, so it should be easier to keep up the pace. We really need to hold on in there.
It was a splendid night. No moon, no clouds and the stars were sparkling. The temperature is mild even at night, as it warms up so much during the day. Thanks to the protective cover, I'm not too exposed to the power of the sun.
As for the ETA, I expect to finish in the second half of Tuesday night in Guadeloupe so during the day in France. But that needs to be confirmed...
I'm beginning to feel tired after two weeks of racing, even if I am managing to get some rest. I'm really looking forward to finishing soon..."
Foto Meron Miranda
Foto Alex Courcoux