A regatta for strong hearts, still to be played. If the first part of the second stage of the Transat Jacques Vabre – the crossing of the Bay of Biscay – was a struggle for survival against the waves and the headwind, the second part, from the Portuguese coast downwards, was a test of resistance and tactics.
After the wind, in fact, the calm arrived to shuffle the cards, creating stop-and-gos which turned the regatta of the Classe40 IBSA and the leading group into a chase.
But let’s start from November 9, at 4:00 pm: the Class40 IBSA is in second position – behind Amarris, crewed by Achille Nebout and Gildas Mahé – in the middle of a calm 2 miles away, at a speed of 1.3 knots near the Portuguese Algarve. There is time to take a shower, eat and rest, check the conditions of the boat and decide on the best strategy to approach the waypoint of the island of Porto Santo, which is located in an area of very little wind.
The Class40 IBSA, which remains in the leading group, makes the courageous decision to head east, in search of the wind. There is no shortage of consequences, because she sails with little air, moving away from the waypoint and taking a route that heads to the Canary Islands. The tracking is merciless: IBSA’s bow points towards the African coast, and the ranking position drops dramatically as the Canary Islands get closer.
These are not easy days and nights: Alberto Bona and Pablo Santurde del Arco clash with the electrical system; some small failures keep them busy at night, preventing the normal flow of their shifts; the wind is light and the top spots in the ranking are moving away. The 7:00 am check of November 11 – according to which the Class40 IBSA it is over a hundred miles from the leaders of the race – is unforgettable. But sailing is a game for strong hearts and strategic minds and, even suffering, Alberto continues with his strategy: the Eastern route sees no compromises, they continue with the plan, almost a required step.
The counterattack begins that same evening, after 7:00 pm on November 11: Bona gybes in the air north of Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, where he finds more wind. It is night when he decides to go South again, and crosses the channel between Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria: on November 12, at 7:00 in the morning, the gap is reduced by half, the Class40 IBSA is now seventh, at 65 miles from Amarris, which chose the opposite strategy, remaining as far west as possible, with less air but with fewer miles to cover, while a small group of boats picked the middle strategy, and slipped between Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
The trade wind remains shy at 15 knots throughout Sunday, and at 5:00 pm here is the gybe we were all waiting for: for the moment it’s enough to go South, along the African coast. The Class40 IBSA proceeds through successive gybes, with the aim of remaining in the wind, but at the same time setting itself on a more stable course towards Martinique; the delay is reduced to 16 miles, there are 2,416 miles to go until the finish line and there is once again a light wind ahead, with the humid trade wind blowing between 12 and 16 knots; but there is still a lot to do.
“We’re fine”, commented Alberto Bona,“the tacks towards the South were very exciting; our strategy began in Portugal, and we did well: the Western options became gradually less and less practicable. Here no one gives up an inch; now it’s about navigating well in the good and the poor wind; the objective is the deepest trade wind, because those who remain high, in the West, now find it interrupted in several places”.