Navigating Cape Verde

CDF-Miranda-600x337-1The fleet of 27 IMOCA60s still racing in the Transat Jacques Vabre has split into three distinct groups. The first, containing many of the fastest duos, have now crossed or are preparing to cross the latitude of Cape Verde before entering the famous Intertropical Convergence Zone known as the Doldrums. The second group, composed of 5 boats, approach the area well grouped and the last group remains some 850 miles behind current race leader Charal.

We’re not surprised to see the speed at which Charal has covered some 2,000 miles. It reflects the technological advances made by those pushing the extremes of both design and budget. Charal’s average speed of 13.5 knots perfectly demonstrates the 13-year difference in the aforementioned design and budget compared to Campagne de France who’ve maintained an average speed of 9.4 knots since starting on Sunday October 27th.

Today Campagne de France is fighting in the last group, kept in company by others with similarly aged boats, goals and desires. Halvard and Miranda continue to protect the small gap to the west which should, within the next 24 hours, allow them to negotiate the islands of Cape Verde with relative ease and an advantage. So far, it’s been a beautiful race for the trio of Miranda, Halvard and Campagne de France.

News from Halvard:

“We’ve got a slight autopilot issue! It works very well most of the time although does drain our batteries somewhat. In a straight line and with stable conditions the autopilot performs perfectly, and you have to be honest in expecting that to be the case from the outset. If you fail to maintain a constant speed because of this, that or the other, you’ll be kept vaguely on course, but… as soon as there is a change of wind speed, direction or trim then your vaguely stable course becomes less stable and somewhat vaguer.

The worst is when we’re in the manoeuvring phase. There, it becomes frankly dangerous because he, the pilot, likes a certain stable speed and a boat that maintains a course. Unfortunately for him during a manoeuvre our speed, nor our course are constant. Not only are we slowing but we’re also jostled by the messy sea state created by the large surface currents disagreeing with the wind over the direction of travel.  He is so unable to maintain a course that the boat gybes and we’re unsure of whether we’re on a rollercoaster, bucking bronco or our beautiful Campagne de France anymore. It’s dangerous…

Last night we had the misfortune to use the pilot’s remote control. A small and clever device allowing Miranda or I the ability to alter our course from any position on the boat. We’d not used it for a few days and the increasingly idiotic pilot didn’t appreciate it. On first touch everything seemed fine. On second however we found ourselves in a more than uncomfortable position following the pilots decision to tack. With the boat leaning horizontally, sails in precarious positions and with the keel and gear on the wrong side of the boat it was very complicated to put the whole mess back together and resume our delightful slide south. Miraculously we sustained no major breakage, the biggest tragedy of race so far was losing the good coffee that rehomed itself within the cockpit.

Very sensibly and very kindly we had one of the autopilot engineers visit Campagne de France in le Havre prior to the start of this 4,350 mile race. We were told not to worry about the rumours around the pontoons of the autopilot’s ability to go on strike when the going gets tough and that it would work perfectly. While it is true that on some boats it does seem to work perfectly, this is not the case for us. The merchants will continue to say that it’s the users that are the idiots however I know many boats that bought, at great expense, the same autopilot and are now replacing them, tired of spending their time looking for settings that provide no results.

But nevertheless, I will not complain. On the one hand, I knew the era of old-fashioned autopilots, a wind vane placed towards the rear of the boat, working directly with the rudder and helming to the changes in wind direction. I must admit that there has been huge progress and it’s always impressive to see how some pilots drive our perfectly perfected modern racing machines! Whilst we race doublehanded and not alone it’s a little less scary. It’s just damaging to both the performance and speed of Campagne de France!

The IMOCA is somewhat different to the Class40 in that we absolutely need an autopilot. Besides the fact that we have numerous other things to do, the general ergonomics of the cockpit do not favour the possibility to helm manually for a sustained period of time.

That said it’s not a pilot issue that’ll prevent us from getting to Salvador, although we must recognize that it is far from the ideal! In any case we’ll have it solved for the solo season and particularly the Vendee Globe. »

Until next time,

Halvard. 

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