Vendée Globe: Attack the Limping Leader
Published on November 20th, 2016
(November 20, 2016; Day 15) – Vendée Globe leader Alex Thomson came within a whisker of setting a new world record for the furthest distance sailed solo in 24 hours before a collision in the South Atlantic put paid to his chances.
Yesterday, the British sailor was sailing at 24 knots in 22 knots of wind at the head of the fleet when at 0935 UTC he heard a bang and his boat Hugo Boss changed direction. Thomson, who had been down below trying to sleep at the time, went up on deck and turned the boat downwind so he could inspect it. He found the starboard foil (leeward) to be damaged and also noticed scrapes down the starboard side of the hull. More details here.
Data revealed today from Vendee Globe HQ shows that Thomson had sailed 535.34 nautical miles when the starboard foil of Hugo Boss was ripped off by a submerged object. The distance sailed by Thomson is actually greater than that set by reigning Vendee Globe champion and current record holder François Gabart, who notched up 534.48 nautical miles in the 2012-13 edition of the race. However, the official rules of the record state it must be broken by one whole mile in order to be recognised – and Thomson’s distance falls short of that by just 259 metres.
The narrow miss is symbolic of Thomson’s luck over the past 24 hours. He was pulling away at the head of the 29-strong fleet when Hugo Boss was wounded. Where a foil once exited the boat only a stump now remains, something Thomson will have to deal with for the remainder of the race. The ailment has already started to have an effect on the rankings. Thomson has been forced to take his foot off the gas and his healthy 125nm lead has since been whittled down to under 90 nm.
Despite the gains, Le Cléac’h, runner up in the last two editions of the Vendee Globe, said he would have to wait for calmer seas to take full advantage of Thomson’s woes. “The sea state is worsening and with the foils we’re not necessarily faster,” Banque Populaire VIII skipper Le Cléac’h said. “We’re going to have to wait for smoother seas to make the most of these appendages. I’m gradually gaining ground on Alex Thomson, but we need to look after the boat for the rest of the race.”
Thomson said he was hoping to be able to stay in front of his chasers until the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of South Africa when he can tack and start using his other foil, but until then he must just live with the breakages. “There’s still a bit of the foil there, sticking out and slowing me down, but I can’t do anything about that,” he said. “At some point I’m going to have to go over the side and cut it off.” When asked what his plan to stave off the attack from Josse and Le Cléac’h, Thomson simply replied: “Pray to the gods that the rest of the race is all on starboard.”
Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII): “The wind has started to strengthen since this morning. We are not far off thirty knots of wind and the seas are getting rougher. It’s a bit like the conditions we find in the Southern Ocean. It’s a whirlwind taking us in the right direction down towards the Cape of Good Hope. We need to find the right sail configuration, and trim well not to damage everything. I’m doing around 22-23 knots at the moment on average. I am not surprised about Alex Thomson’s speeds. Without a foil, she is as fast as a boat with daggerboards and we can see the speeds achieved by our rivals without foils. The sea state is worsening and with the foils, we’re not necessarily faster. We’re going to have to wait for smoother seas to make the most of these appendages. I’m gradually gaining ground on Alex Thomson, but we need to look after the boat for the rest of the race. I set my pace based on the boat’s polars and the sea state. Occasionally some are faster than others, but the most important thing is keeping up a high average. There’s no point stretching yourself too far just to gain the lead right now.”
Ranking (Top 5 of 29 as of 22:00 UTC)
1. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson (GBR), 19265 nm to finish
2. Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA), 80.39 nm to leader
3. Edmond de Rothschild, Sébastien Josse (FRA), 89.39 nm
4. PRB, Vincent Riou (FRA), 156.63 nm
5. Safran, Morgan Lagravière (FRA), 178.93 nm
The eighth Vendée Globe, which began November 6 from Les Sables d’Olonn, France, is the only non-stop solo round the world race without assistance. Twenty-nine skippers representing four continents and ten nations set sail on IMOCA 60s in pursuit of the record time set by François Gabart in the 2012-13 race of 78 days, 2 hours and 16 minutes.
For the first time in the history of the event, seven skippers will set sail on IMOCA 60s fitted with foils: six new boats (Banque Populaire VIII, Edmond de Rothschild, Hugo Boss, No Way Back, Safran, and StMichel-Virbac) and one older generation boat (Maitre Coq). The foils allow the boat to reduce displacement for speed gains in certain conditions. It will be a test to see if the gains can topple the traditional daggerboard configuration during the long and demanding race.
Source: Vendee Globe