Vendée Globe: Brutal Weather Ahead
Published on December 8th, 2016
(December 8, 2016; Day 33) – Armel Le Cléac’h and Alex Thomson today passed the magical mid-way point of the Vendée Globe solo round the world race when, in theory, their distance to the finish line back in Les Sables d’Olonne is less than the distance they have already sailed. That psychological point where every mile feels like it is taking you closer to the finish line rather than away from the start line has been reached.
In practice, Armel Le Cléac’h led across the midpoint of the course around 1000hrs UTC this morning, passing from the Indian Ocean into the Pacific, at the longitude 146° 55’ E as specified by the International Hydrographic Office, at 1245hrs UTC. Thomson breached the midpoint at 1500hrs UTC.
The Banque Populaire skipper’s time to the gateway to the Pacific is still more than five and a half days faster than in 2012 when he crossed 6.3 miles behind François Gabart. As of 22:00 FR, Le Cléac’h had clocked 458.4 nm in the past 24 hours.
But the half way mark, and the Pacific, is bringing the leading duo their most brutal period of the race so far. A very slow moving deep low is effectively barring their route across the first miles of the Pacific, which is not living up to its name, nor its reputation. Both Thomson and Le Cléac’h said the next 36 hours are about boat and skipper preservation.
“For sure, it’s time to look after the boat. I have between two and three reefs, the J3, no foils. I will just try and go as gently as possible. But you know these boats, they don’t want to slow down, no matter how much or little sail you have up. To be honest I don’t really look where Armel is. There is nothing I can do about him. He is where he is. For now I just worry about myself and try and keep the boat in one piece.
“I try to go as fast as I can but go reasonably and try not to break anything. The boat is slamming and it is very difficult to walk around the boat, it is very stressful. The wind should continue to increase. There is no way to avoid it. All I can do is slow down if it starts to get too bad. It is slamming. But we have to cross this low. Normally the low crosses us. This low is going to stop and we are going to cross back into the northerlies again. I am not sure how that is going to work out.”
In third place Paul Meilhat crossed the longitude of Cape Leeuwin at 0940hrs this morning, some 2 days, 20 hours and 10 minutes behind the leader, his compatriot Armel Le Cléac’h. Meilhat is the best of the 14 rookies. Sailing the former MACIF which won the last edition of the race, Meilhat is two days and 13 hours ahead of the pace of Gabart in December 2012.
Sailing the conventionally configured, non-foiling SMA, Meilhat clearly is from the same gene pool as Gabart, still holding at bay the foil borne Jérémie Beyou (Maitre CoQ) and in fact was fastest in the fleet over the 24 hours to 1400hrs UTC, making 483 nautical miles in 24 hours, 43 more than Beyou.
Eric Bellion, the skipper of 16th placed Comme Un Seul Homme, admitted today there were many brutally frustrating moments during his 12-hour rudder repair, when he was sure that his Vendée Globe was over for him.
“Many, many times I thought it was over for me. I could not get rid of the old rudder. It was impossible. It was stuck in the hole. In the end I cut the rudder in half. It was a big risk. And then when I cut it, it was possible to get rid of the piece at deck level. I started work at about 4.30 and knew I only had eleven hours before the next big depression arrived. I started when the sun started to rise. It wasn’t easy and I struggled to remove the rudder. I’m so pleased to have done it now, as I wasn’t feeling very confident about it.”
At the same time Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy) has been in full MacGyver mode, fighting to stay on top of the small breakages which would otherwise threaten his race. He has had to reconfigure his autopilots, spent 90 minutes at the top of his mast hand sewing the head of his Solent jib and has been sorting issues with his battery system caused by his fire. All the time he has been pressed south on to the ice exclusion zone.
“It is a bit of a fight on actually. I am dealing with lots of small technical problems at the same time and also trying to stay with Stéphane and Nandor. I am having to reconfigure the pilot because a few elements have broken. I am repairing the battery management system which was damaged and on top of that I spent an hour and half at the top of the mast putting the sails back together so there is no chance of me getting lonely or bored. I was sewing the sails back together while they were working.”
Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII) : “Conditions are rough and uncomfortable and set to get worse in the coming hours. The seas have been quite heavy since yesterday with around thirty knots of wind. It is going to strengthen to 35-40 knots. So I have reduced the sail, as we need to be wary and listen to the boat. In the worst of the low, we’ll put the race on hold. The important thing is looking after the boat, as there is no wild card to play in the Vendée Globe… Conditions should improve from Sunday. I knew the boats were fast in certain points of sail, but I hadn’t really thought about the intermediate times before the start. Conditions were ideal in the Atlantic to get a good time to the Cape of Good Hope. In the Indian, we got one low after another, so never got held up. So it’s logical that we have continued to shave time off the record. It’s the sea state that makes the boat uncomfortable. I’m trying to trim to be fast, while avoiding slamming too much. I’ll be the first into the low, so those behind should narrow the gap. But I’m not worried, as in the Southern Ocean, the fleet tends to stretch in and out.”
Conrad Colman (USA/NZL) Foresight Natural Energy: “It is a bit of a fight on actually. I am dealing with lots of small technical problems at the same time and also trying to stay with Stéphane and Nandor. I am having to reconfigure the pilot because a few elements have broken. I am repairing the battery management system which was damaged and on top of that I spent an hour and half at the top of the mast putting the sails back together so there is no chance of me getting lonely or bored. I was sailing the sails back together while they were working. I got them fixed. I am not so far away from the ice exclusion zone and I needed to have the sail unrolled to access the part which was damaged. I am back at full speed, surfing to 20kts at times in 20kts of wind, I went to the head of the J2, the Solent, and had to hand stitch the luff and so I was doing hand stitching as well as some patching when I was up there. It is nice to be able to compare my speed with the other guys to be in a pack of five boats is really nice. Unfortunately Nandor is still not so far away anyway so, yes, it does still feel a bit like the Barcelona World Race (LAUGHS). I would like to have him further behind me but at the moment I am spending too much time fixing the boat.”
Eric Bellion (COMMEUNSEULHOMME): “The rudder broke in between the two bearings. There was just a small bit that remained attached, so it was moving around in every direction. So I had to look for some calm weather to carry out repairs. The seas and winds are still rough. I had to go below and get some rest. I started work at about 4.30. when the sun started to rise. I had about ten hours ahead of me before the next low moved in. It wasn’t easy and I struggled to remove the rudder. In all it took me around eleven hours. To remove it I had to do a lot of sawing and use my drill. I’m pleased to have done it now, as I wasn’t feeling very confident about it.”
Didac Costa (One Planet, One Ocean): “To have covered quite a bit of ground boosts my morale, and, after having started so far behind the others sailing now with another boat close by motivates me and in fact my speed has increased. I will really miss not having a roof over the cockpit, because if I go out to manoeuvre I get drenched, and so I have to be in my foul weather gear all day, and it’s a bit uncomfortable. Also, the sea is much bigger now than a few days ago, but the thing is to hang in there and not break anything, I really have to be careful with the boat because there’s still a long way to go and as we have seen there can be quite a bit of breakage and so I have to be even more careful if at all possible at this stage, as it is the trickiest bit of the race.”
Ranking (Top 5 of 29 as of 22:00 FR)
1. Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA), 12036 nm to finish
2. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson (GBR), 135.27 nm to leader
3. SMA, Paul Meilhat (FRA), 1267.29 nm
4. Maître CoQ, Jérémie Beyou (FRA), 1409.85 nm
5. Quéguiner – Leucémie Espoir, Yann Eliès (FRA), 1732.53 nm
Race details – Tracker – Ranking – Facebook – VendeeGlobe TV
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.
November 12, Day 7 – Tanguy de Lamotte, Initiatives Coeur, masthead crane failure
November 19, Day 14 – Bertrand de Broc, MACSF, UFO collision
November 22, Day 17 – Vincent Riou, PRB, UFO collision
November 24, Day 19 – Morgan Lagravière, Safran, UFO collision
December 4, Day 29 – Kojiro Shiraishi, Spirit of Yukoh, dismasted
December 6, Day 31 – Kito de Pavant, Bastide Otio, UFO collision
December 7, Day 32 – Sébastien Josse, Edmond de Rothschild, foil damage
Source: Vendee Globe