Tomorrow it will be time for the start of the Europa Warm’Up and the gentle countdown continues.
Around the dock in Barcelona where the seven IMOCA’ Open 60’s are moored in front of the famous Port of Barcelona building, there is no shortage of attention being paid to the boats, the skippers and the steady work of their technical teams by the multitudes of passers by. This is, after all, one of Barcelona’s busiest waterside walks.
On board there is always something to pay attention to, to refine, to tweak, to tune. Ahead of them is the perfect test bed for Vendée Globe preparations. Some boats and skippers have already done a full round the world tour, some are making their big race debut, but the common goal is to be in A1, perfect racing shape when the start gun sounds off Les Sables d’Olonne in early November.
The warmth of the Barcelona sun is but a pleasing distraction. There is no time to stop and enjoy it, even if the crews really are ready to go. They check the furl of the gennaker, some ergonomic padding here and there around the cockpit perhaps to facilitate the crewed sailing, or likewise below decks where the space normally reserved for a soloist will be home to a full crew. And the technical teams are looking out for any small omissions, any little detail which might make a difference. As ever, the devil is in the detail.
The chat around the race pontoon reveals a common feeling of pleasure shared among the skippers, crews and technical teams. First of all they are happy to be in Barcelona where the local reception has been warm and enthusiastic. Besides the obvious enthusiasm and passion the FNOB has built, with just a few weeks notice, a race village and activities to be proud of, the like of which would be the envy of many big race organisations.
But most of all this has the feel, for all, of being an important stepping stone towards the Vendée Globe. Each boat arrives from winter refit and some training skirmishes together, it is only on the race course proper that the measure can be made of each boat’s real performance on different points of sail in different wind and sea conditions, but also how they match up in close quarters racing. There are the four VPLP-Verdier designs, Virbac-Paprec 3, Banque Populaire, PRB and MACIF, which will get the chance to line up with the new Juan Yacht Design Cheminées Poujoulat which had to retire from last year’s maiden Transat Jacques Vabre, and Javier Sanso’s brand new Acciona 100% Eco Powered, the Owen-Clarke design which has been based from Sanso’s home port of Palma Mallorca, and – as the name indicates – is not reliant at all on fossil fuels.
And there is the highly optimised Groupe Bel of Kito de Pavant who is keen to redress the balance after his disappointing Transat Jacques Vabre.
While the city may be welcoming, the first leg in the Mediterranean is not so reliable. In springtime on the passage to and through the Straits of Gibraltar anything can happen, from flat calms and slow going to sudden squalls and gales. Nothing is certain on this first leg and the universal belief is to expect the unexpected and everything else is a bonus.
Kito de Pavant (Groupe Bel): “This race will be an excellent test before the Vendée Globe, a chance in the Mediterranean and beyond to prove that we are up to speed, our beautiful red boat is on it. We have made a lot of changes to the boat. I think there will be some who have problems, but Groupe Bel can surprise, especially in light winds.”