Black-hulled Hugo Boss has gained and leads the Vendée Globe out of the ‘Pot au Noir’, the Doldrums by over eighty miles. The British skipper has made 40 miles on the chasing group since this morning. Tanguy de Lamotte has reached Mindello, in the Cape Verdes where he plans to make repairs to his masthead.
Vendée Globe leader Alex Thomson’s Doldrums strategy is simple and straightforward. At midday today, after several hours of rain and cloud cover, in a light breeze, the British skipper of Hugo Boss concluded: “I just want to get out of this mess as quickly as possible because I hate it.” Taking the most direct, southerly, shortest route through the Doldrums looks to have paid handsomely. While all of his closest French rivals had first slanted west then – later this afternoon – angled south to parallel the course taken by Hugo Boss – Thomson’s single minded choice had earned him another 40 miles over the course of Monday. The black hulled Hugo Boss looked to be easing out of the ‘Pot au Noir’ this afternoon and was already 87 miles clear of second placed Armel Le Cléac’h on the mid-afternoon rankings.
Satellite images showed Thomson with a further 30 or 40 miles of cloud activity and variable easterly breezes before he should press the bow down in the first of the SE’ly winds which prevail in the north of the South Atlantic. The ‘mess’ should be behind him. And on the mid afternoon rankings the British skipper was still making almost double the speed of his chasing rivals, 12kts versus 6.2. It will be early Tuesday maybe before the real outcome is evident, but it looks for the meantime like Thomson has pulled off a second consecutive coup d’état against his French rivals.
On Saturday evening he gained by passing directly through the Cabo Verde islands to take the lead, making two perfectly timed gybes to exit the island channel on a perfect, accelerating wind shift. It now looks like his lone strategy, sticking as much to gut instinct, experience and simple logic as the appliance of brain curdling science, has paid again. “It is difficult. You can’t really look at the GRIB files because they don’t really mean much in this area, you can look at Satellite pictures, you can look at Quikscat images which show actually what wind angles are at a certain time. But there is still a fair amount of guess work, a fair amount of luck involved. To me there is no fixed science. If you were to speak to Jean Yves Bernot (ace French ‘meteo’ specialist who coaches many of the French skippers) he makes a science of it. But for me, I entered the Doldrums further east than anyone else, but here I am just trying to play my angles, the best VMG, getting south as quickly as possible. I am playing the clouds as they come, whatever local effects there are.”
“I just want to get out of here as quickly as possible.”
Of his Cabo Verde advance which gained him the lead, Thomson – who is the first British skipper to lead the Vendée Globe since December 2008– explained: “I could see on the high resolution GRIBs that they were forecasting a shift and a slight acceleration at the end of the channel there. And a bit of a shift to the east. That meant I could get a good angle out, after I had stuck in my two gybes. My objective was really to miss the wind shadow of the next island which is about 2000m high. So that was my reasoning. I was not sure it was going to work out perfectly. But it worked brilliantly. I am happy with that.” The leader should break across the Equator tomorrow night, potentially setting a new reference for the race, over a day quicker than the best time set in 2004-5.
The South Atlantic ahead looks complicated. But because the Saint Helena high pressure is messy and well displaced to the east there might be a more direct passage in better breeze for the leading group of seven before the SE’ly and E’ly breezes die away and become variable.
Tanguy de Lamotte reached Mindelo in the Cape Verde islands around 1500hrs UTC, where he is expected to start repairs to his masthead. The race rules are very specific. He is allowed to pick up an existing mooring and leave it, unassisted, or he can set his own anchor. If he breaks his engine seal and uses his engine he must tell the International Jury who will apply a penalty, if considered applicable.
Alex Thomson (GBR) Hugo Boss : “It has been going quite well so far. I have managed to keep the wind so far. It is dropping away now. So far, rather than big clouds coming and going, it seems to have been raining for a number of hours now. I did manage to take a shower and so I am happy about that. I am still a long way from being out of the Doldrums. I have taken a direct, southerly, even east in my southerly route just to try and minimise my time spent in the Doldrums, just so I can exit as quickly as possible. Hopefully I will be the first to get stronger wind, to get more lifted breeze in a few days.”
About going his own way, others going west…..
“ I don’t know about them. The last Vendée Globe I had a good Doldrums, the last Barcelona World Race we had a terrible Doldrums. I went south and last time Guillermo (Altadill) and Jean Le Cam went west of south. It has not looked good to the west at all to me, to be honest. It is difficult. You can’t really look at the GRIB files, but they don’t really mean much, you can look at Satellite pictures, you can look at Quikscat images which show actually what wind angles are at a certain time. There is still a fair amount of guess work, a fair amount of luck involved. To me there is no fixed science. If you were to speak to Jean Yves Bernot he makes a science of it. But for me, I entered the Doldrums further east than anyone else but here I am just trying to play my angles, the best VMG, getting south as quick as possible. I am playing the clouds as they come, whatever local effects there are. I just want to get out of this mess as quickly as possible because I hate it. I know that at any moment you can be stopped and be stuck, going no where, for hours and hours and hours. I am very keen to exit as quickly as possible. I did manage to get some sleep before I came in. The last Vendée Globe here I did not sleep for 36 hours and so I have prepared myself to not sleep and to push.”
Why through Cabo Verdes?
“My strategy, once I recovered from that horrendous gybe I made at Finisterre, was to get as west as possible. I got that and managed to be the most west boat at one point. Then, heading south, I was playing my VMG, the most efficient course, according to wind speed and direction. That inevitably takes you to somewhere you don’t want to go, the Cape Verde Islands. The Holy Grail is always to pass way out to the west. That was not going to happen. So the option for me was to make another horrific gybe, and head west and make no gain in the direction I wanted to go in order to miss the huge wind shadow off these islands. So I went through. I have been through various islands before. I chose to go through there because the first island is very big, high, 1500m. The other is only 500m and so there is not so much of a wind shadow. I could see on the high resolution GRIBs that they were forecasting a shift and a slight acceleration at the end of the channel there. And a bit of a shift to the east. That meant I could get a good angle out, after I had stuck in my two gybes. My objective was really to miss the wind shadow of the next island which is about 2000m high. So that was my reasoning. I was not sure it was going to work out perfectly. But it worked brilliantly. I am happy with that.”
How does the South Atlantic look?
“I have not even looked at the South Atlantic. I looked quickly after the Cape Verdes, but right now all my focus is on getting out of here, Doldrums, Doldrums, Doldrums. My objective is get out into the South East trades. I will go upwind in a steady breeze. It has no bearing on what I do now.”
Changed engine oil yesterday?
“Was that only yesterday? I don’t know what happened and it has not happened before, I think it was just the angle we were sailing down the Atlantic, water has been getting into the engine, almost undoubtedly through the pick up in the keel. Fortunately we got it the best I could. I had to do an oil change, to pump out, flush out all the system and change the filter, all while averaging 20kts, and surfing to 28-30kts. It was not a pleasant experience. I managed to cover myself in oil and there was some cursing. Fortunately it is running sweet, I have kept all oil I have got. I might have a go at cleaning that. But it does not look too bad. It is a silly thing to happen. It won’t be happening again.”
How does he feel after one week at sea in this eighth Vendée Globe?
“I felt in the last two days that I have really found my rhythm. I am sleeping well, not needing alarms. I am really in the swing of things. I am really enjoying sailing this boat. It is one of the things, which I suppose is the same for other skippers, is when you get the chance to build, to be part of the design with the people who put together one of these machines, and then you get to go and race it. It is real honour. Half an hour ago I was in 15kts of wind doing 20kts beam reaching. That puts the biggest smile on my face. It is such a pleasure and a privilege.”
Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild): “We hit a squall early this morning and the wind came around 360° and dropped to 2 knots. It’s raining and there is a bit of residual swell. It’s hard to see if there are squalls coming up or not. The west should have been more favourable, but the wind direction forced us in that direction this morning. You can’t do much once you’re in this area; it’s down to luck, once you have chosen your point of entry. The charts aren’t very reliable down here.”
Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII): “The Doldrums are around 140 miles wide. We’ll quickly get to the Equator, which is less than 500 miles ahead and if we shave a day off the reference times here and there, it’s not too bad. Until the Cap Verdes, it was perfect for me, but after that there was a stretch, where things weren’t trimmed right. But that’s behind me now. It’s all part of the game. Sometimes there are bits that aren’t so good. The others will find that too. 4 years ago, I was some way ahead at the Equator but we found ourselves all grouped together at the Cape of Good Hope…” About Alex: “His boat is extremely fast and we’re going to have to watch him closely. We tend to forget him, but he needs to be watched”