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Return of the Phantom Menace?

  • One week to Gough Island when the different routes will play out
  • Mapfre reappear from ghost mode this evening
  • Difficult and direct for Estrella Damm, long and fast for Foncia

A week may be a long time in politics, but for the Barcelona World Race fleet, this third week of racing is likely to see the route down the southern Atlantic present more questions than answers.
As 2007-8 Barcelona World Race winner Jean-Pierre Dick said today "We are in mode wait and see!'"
Current predictions have the fleet leaders reaching Gough Island and just after it the first of the course’s seven safety gates, next Monday evening.
The heaviest burden of questions is imposed on the current race leader, Estrella Damm. Their relatively direct routing towards the waypoint, essentially down the direct SE’ly diagonal, has them fighting though the most disturbances as they open the course through the systems of the Saint Helena high pressure zone.
In fact today their track is affected not by a simple single anticyclone to climb round or through, but no fewer than two high pressure systems and two low pressure systems, all exerting various influences on them.
The net result will be at least 36-48 hours of unsettled, changeable conditions to the point that they would be forgiven for stopping looking at strategy and weather for a couple of days simply adopt the approach of heading down the course and adjusting for each new change as it comes to them.
Alex Pella, Barcelona based co-skipper of Estrella Damm was still upbeat today when he spoke on the morning’s Audio-VisioConference.
“We have had a really mixed time, with showers, squalls, showers with and without wind, a little bit of everything. We have chosen the option to the SE which we felt was the best with the information that we had, which we think is the best choice.
To be first is good and something to look back on, but thousands of things can happen, and so today we just enjoy being leaders.”

Pellaand Ribes made a swift repair to a primary winch today. Their routing is far from certain to bring them the outcome they desire.
And it will be physically and mentally the most taxing of the top half of the fleet.
Being second down this track could yet be beneficial to Groupe Bel’s French duo Kito De Pavant and Seb Audigane. Their deficit to Estrella Damm remains around 135-138 miles, but that half a day’s sailing not only allows them the advantage of the weather systems to develop a little more, but they can carefully monitor the Spanish crew’s progress.

Return of the Phantom Menace
The same cannot be said of the second Spanish crew who were in the top three before they went undercover on Sunday morning. Speculation was rife among the skippers spoken to today about where the ‘Sanxenxo phantoms’ on MAPFRE, Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez, will re-appear on this evening’s 1900hrs UTC rankings, 34 hours after they pressed the ‘disappear’ button on Sunday morning.
The duo’s ‘Ghost’ mode expires this evening. Alex Pella considers that the Spanish Olympic medallists were looking at a radical move to the west as the most likely option.
But the single biggest question is a long term one: 'how will the western option which is being taken by Foncia, Michel Desjoyeaux and Francois Gabart, and Virbac-Paprec 3, Jean Pierre Dick and Loïck Peyron play out?' 
Dick today said he felt confident in their option and the duo have been consistently quick, and they will accelerate more and sail better and better angles as they get down the Atlantic. 
150 miles off the Brazilian coast, Foncia are already more than 400 miles to the west of the leaders and their routing is estimated to have them sail some 600 miles more than the more direct course of Estrella Damm.

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