Friday, September 07, 2007

Strait of Gibraltar paralyzes the Vuelta de España

Last Wednesday we reported on the Vuelta de España a Vela (Spain Sailing Tour), the annual regatta co-organized by RFEV, Vuelta España a Vela SL, Deporevents and CNEV in order for the latter to fulfill its obligations under the Deed of Gift. During the last two days we have been able to gather much more information from official sources and photos and we now have a clearer picture of the event.

First of all, the 10 boats left the starting city of Ceuta (see map) on Monday at 6:30pm, headed west, crossed the strait of Gibraltar and arrived in Cadiz on Tuesday at around 2pm. While approaching the port one of the boats ran aground and has been forced to abandon the race. In the city of Cadiz there was a brief prize-giving ceremony for the first boat and it appears that in each arrival the mayor of the city will give an award to the first boat in that leg.

Initial legs of the Vuelta de España. It starts in Ceuta, heads west to Cadiz and then back east to Malaga.

According to the official press releases, the first leg was quite easy and crossing the strait of Gibraltar did not seem to cause any problems to the participating boats. Winds were considerably light, never surpassing 15 knots, even close to Tarifa. That city is a famous surfer's paradise with winds that usually blow in the range of 30-35 knots. Conditions both at the start and the arrival were extremely light, 3-5 knots.

Start of the Vuelta de España a Vela. Ceuta, 4 September 2007. Photo copyright Pedro Martinez

Start of the Vuelta de España a Vela. Ceuta, 4 September 2007. Photo copyright Pedro Martinez

After that first leg, the remaining 9 boats were scheduled to depart on Wednesday morning and head back east towards Malaga, a trip of 128 miles. The departure was postponed various times since winds in Tarifa and the strait of Gibraltar returned overnight with a vengeance, reaching 45 knots. The unabated assault of the breeze forced the Spanish coast guard to prohibit all maritime traffic in the region. Tragically, a small fishing boat that did not obey the coast guard sank when it was hit by gusts over 60 knots and 5-meter waves and all its crew died.

Obviously, the organization of the regatta was left with no option but wait. The second leg was rescheduled to start this morning at 7am but at the time we are writing this (11am) we have no information whether it took place. Despite this 2-day delay the organization of the event is confident they can keep the calendar, although it should be noted that the third leg (Malaga-Cartagena) should start tomorrow. It is difficult to see how this can be achieved but the event might catch up at a later stage when there are 3-day slots allocated to much smaller legs.

In any case, one wonders why the organizers chose this peculiar itinerary and decided to cross the strait of Gibraltar twice rather than start from Cadiz (west) and then go east towards Ceuta and then Malaga. Even the least experienced local sailors are aware of the dangers lurking in the narrow stretch of sea that separates Europe from Africa. The RFEV (Spanish Sailing Federation) should know better than that!!

Of course, one thing that is still unknown is to what extent the CNEV is involved with the organization of the event whose general manager is Federico Martínez-Alés, unrelated to the RFEV. We sincerely hope CNEV, the 33rd America's Cup Challenger of Record, doesn't appear on the headlines for the wrong reasons. That way, the America's Cup can get back to normality and we can get down to business here in Valencia!!

Finally, here are the photos of the race's two leading boats, in the port of Cadiz. Unfortunately, these are the only photos we have since there doesn't seem to exist any photo of the boats sailing offshore.

Grupo Actualidad / Wind Cat House, currently leading the Vuelta de España a Vela. Cadiz, 5 September 2007. Photo copyright Pedro Martinez

Visión Cruceros / Ason, currently second in the Vuelta de España a Vela. Cadiz, 5 September 2007. Photo copyright Pedro Martinez



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