After a fast passage south from Les Sables d’Olonne to cross the Equator last night, the leading skippers in the Vendée Globe can expect the high pace and intensity to continue down the South Atlantic. Forecasters are presently predicting the race record to the Cape of Good Hope may fall thanks to the very south easterly position of the South Atlantic High Pressure system.
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) continues to blaze the trail southwards and this afternoon was still over 58 miles ahead of Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII). Both of the foiling IMOCAs have moved slightly clear of third placed PRB over the day in the beam reaching conditions – averaging 15-18kts of SE’ly breeze. After racing cheek by jowl with his compatriot Le Cléac’h coming out of the Doldrums, now in the slightly windier, more eased, reaching conditions, the orange hulled six year old VPLP-Verdier design with conventional ‘straight’ daggerboards has been a click slower than the two boats in front. PRB has lost about eight miles since last night.
Thomson set a new reference time from the start line to the Equator at 9 days 07 hours 02 minutes. Le Cléac’h crossed 2 hours and 54 minutes later and Riou 3hours and 22 minutes after Thomson. By this afternoon when Yann Eliès crossed, eight skippers were racing in the Southern Hemisphere.
The combination of a newly developing low pressure system between Rio and Itajai and then a second which will help maintain the position of the Saint Helena high pressure far to the south and east, is a mouth watering prospect for the leaders. This should create reaching conditions in a breeze all the way south east with the door potentially closing behind the ten leading skippers. At present the Doldrums are now well to the north, from the Cape Verde Islands to 5 degrees north, and that is slowing the body of the fleet. Logically Thomson’s extra leverage, he emerged from the Doldrums 50 miles to the east of the chasing duo, should tell, but Le Cléac’h has had a very slightly higher VMG today. Thomson, on the all black Hugo Boss, is about 245 miles east of the NE corner of Brazil this afternoon.
Third placed Vincent Riou said this afternoon from PRB: “I was expecting this level of performance, otherwise I wouldn’t be here taking part. Conditions are difficult for me at the moment. In the Northern Hemisphere, we had high speeds. We know that the foils work. Coming out of the Doldrums, we‘re not upwind, so that doesn’t favour me. The wind will be on the beam for the next few days. I’m lucky that the wind isn’t going to strengthen that much, so the difference is not going to be that big, but it does exist. I’m going to have to find a way to hang on in there to avoid getting left behind. There is still a long way to go. We’re waiting to see what we’ll get in the South Atlantic to know whether I need to put my foot down. It looks like being fast. But there’s some disagreement between the models. There are two ways of getting to the Cape of Good Hope. But it’s clear it is going to be quick.”
Tanguy de Lamotte was making the climb northwards this afternoon after leaving the race to get south. After breaking his mast tip and being unable to set a full mainsail and masthead headsails, de Lamotte will continue unassisted back to Les Sables d’Olonne. “I’m taking my boat home to Les Sables d’Olonne without going all the way around Antarctica, but will be continuing my campaign for Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque,” he said.
Mechanical problems have slowed Jérmie Beyou on Maitre CoQ. He has been struggling to deal with issues affecting his autopilots. Meanwhile in 11th place, Jean Pierre Dick on the foiling StMichel Virbac has picked up a little pace this afternoon after a torrid period in the Doldrums, making 14kts and closing distance on Thomas Ruyant and Jean Le Cam in front.
The ‘league of distinguished gentlemen’s race remains equally hard fought. Even if there are email exchanges just now between the likes of Rich Wilson, Nandor Fa, Stephane Le Diraison and Eric Bellion, occupying the 19th to 22nd places and into the Doldrums, all are as avid in their analysis of the rankings files which take a much greater priority when they land in their respective inboxes. Wilson remarked: “I don’t think I have ever gone so fast. And yet the boats around me are either catching up or pulling away. I am not sure what I can do to go faster. We have had a couple of nice e-mail exchanges with Nandor and with Alan Roura and with Koji and Eric Bellion. That is all nice, a nice feature of the race. We are all going as fast as we can but it is very civil and friendly.”
Didac Costa (One Planet One Ocean): “The moon was awesome yesterday. It was magical to surf the waves with its company. In the morning I changed from the A5 to the FR0, as the wind began to drop and shift to the bow. I remember that during the Barcelona World Race with Aleix, it took us about 25 minutes to do this manoeuvre. Sailing solo, this same manoeuvre takes me not less than an hour. These are the steps to follow: take out the sail, spread it on deck, prepare it, furl the other one that is up, drop it, change the outhaul, halyard and downhaul, “travelling” to the mast and piano, hoist the new sail, change the check stay for the topmast backstay, unfurl the sail, trim, keep the other sail, etc. Today I finished the manoeuvre in shorts and without a t-shirt. You have to think carefully before taking the decision…”
Pieter Heerema (NED) No Way Back: “I am very good. It has been a fantastic few days. Last night was magical, absolutely magical. The full moon out with a little bit of a hazy sky, flat seas and no waves at all and a very nice wind. The boat went like a bat out of hell. It was so smooth it was incredible, absolutely fantastic. I have not seen many nights like that before. The boat is doing well. The boat likes to stretch its legs. My back is getting better slowly, but it is still there. A couple of days ago I had to pull something hard directly. It is a lot better. There are some little rain squalls coming over, it is a little early but it is characteristics of what I expect in the Doldrums. There is a very big wind shift suddenly. I have sailed through the Doldrums before, not racing. I don’t like it there. It is not nice. They take a long time and you can know whatever but it is still a casino. You can say what you like but it’s a casino.”
Nandor Fa (HUN) Spirit of Hungary: “I don’t even know what day it is. I am well into the Doldrums at the moment, or very close to it. I had a huge shower with 30kts of wind and I was flying. And after that I stopped for a couple of hours. It was raining, raining, raining. Now we are getting some more clouds. I feel OK. It is happening what I expected. The last couple of days I have been enjoying some good progress under the A2 gennaker. I made some westing and some good speed but now this morning this huge cloud and stopped. But I guess in maybe one or one and a half days I will be through and will pick up the SE’ly trades. It is strange because the feature is different to what I recall before, there are no separated clouds, it is cloudy all over. It is not a shower, squally doldrums like I used to remember. The boat is wet, everything is wet and I am wet.”
Rankings on 16/12/2016 at 15h00 (French time)
- Alex Thomson – Hugo Boss – 0 – Distance to finish : 21138 Nm
- Armel Le Cléach – Banque Populaire VIII – 58,44 Nm from leader
- Vincent Riou – PRB – 69,85 Nm from leader
- Sébastien Josse – Edmond de Rotschild – 79,45 Nm from leader
- Paul Meilhat – SMA – 99,27 Nm from leader