Vendée Globe: Lonely in the Lead
Published on December 13th, 2016
(December 13, 2016; Day 38) – At the front of the Vendée Globe fleet, Alex Thomson’s deficit behind leader Armel Le Cléac’h continues to grow with upcoming few days looking to be disorderly high pressure, lighter wind areas.
“Conditions should start to ease tonight and especially tomorrow,” noted Le Cléach, the Banque Populaire VIII solo skipper. “It’s going to be nice to take it easy after the hellish pace we have had for several weeks. In the Southern Ocean, we were rarely down below twenty knots.”
Le Cléach, who has covered 444.6 nm in the past 24 hours, does find a downside to extending from Thomson. “It is stimulating to have someone close by. Four years ago with François (Gabart) it was different as we were alongside each other. This time, there is some separation, but it’s still very close. It’s motivating and fascinating watching each other’s strategy and routing choices.”
He continued, “The past few days haven’t been easy with heavy seas and 50 knot gusts. It wasn’t comfortable on board. Eating, getting dressed and moving around. All that was difficult. A secondary low formed in front of us, so we had to deal with that, which meant going around the south in my case. Since the start of the race, we’ve had lots of complicated moments, where it was really tough. I was wondering whether it was ever going to stop. But you have to keep at it. It’s when the going gets tough that you can make all the difference.”
Challenges haven’t been limited to the lead duo. After spending some of yesterday during the day and evening hove to, slowed to speeds of just two or three knots as he sought to reduce the level of danger he faces negotiating a violent storm, Yann Eliès, the fifth placed French skipper of Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir, was today struggling to come to terms with his choices and their consequences.
The three times winner of La Solitaire du Figaro, racing his second Vendée Globe, sounded concerned at not knowing exactly what weather and seas he still has to face but so too he is ‘fed up’ that his prudent choices mean also accepting the net loss of very hard earned miles to his rivals in front of him who are not affected.
Some 600 miles south east of Tasmania, Eliès has tiptoed as the low’s centre passes just to the north of him, but he is tired and stressed and has had more than 40-knot winds to deal with. And he is concerned that he will still have unruly seas of more than seven and a half metres to contend with. All the while he has been taking avoiding action, he says.
He has lost another 24 hours or more than 400 miles to fourth placed Jérémie Beyou – his long time Figaro class rival. Beyou (Maître CoQ) is now 835 miles ahead when two and a half days ago that delta was 375 miles. “It’s getting me down, as it’s the second low I’ve had and the second I have had to wait for. You never know what it means for you and for the boat. We’re not in the radius of the rescue services. So yes, I’m worrying about it, it’s getting me down and I’m fed up. Each time with this stuff I lose 24 hours.”
Eliès continued: “Yesterday I waited for the centre of the low. I didn’t want to get too far east, because further east the worse the conditions. I didn’t like taking the long way around it like Jean-Pierre. We have 40-45 knot squalls. But the wind isn’t the problem, it’s the worsening sea state that worries me more. A 7 m swell… I have three reefs in and just the mainsail up. But I keep telling myself that this is the Southern Ocean, so I should be able to deal with that. The worst sea conditions are likely to be tomorrow evening. I’m trying to sail at 60-70% of the polars. I’m hitting peak speeds of 20 knots with three reefs in. I may heave to again this evening after looking at the latest forecasts. I have been going slow now for two days.”
Jean Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac), who is sixth, was arriving into the lee of Tasmania around 1800hrs UTC having diverted more than 500 miles north east to avoid the same storm. He will likely have to slow right down in the lee as the island is some 160 miles west to east and consequently at normal speeds he would otherwise emerge back into the depression around five or six in the morning (UTC) when there is still likely to be more than 40 knots of wind.
Eliès points out that the option to go to Tasmania with Dick was not ideal: “I was too far ahead to think about going up like Jean-Pierre around Tasmania. I didn’t want to arrive off the coast of Tasmania with the island as a lee shore in 40-45 knots. I’d rather have that out at sea than near the coast. But it’s true that if you need help, it’s better fifty miles from land than 400 miles. There’s another low moving in on 16th with winds in excess of 40 knots on Saturday.”
Said Jean-Pierre Dick, “The situation is more fraught than expected. The wind is gradually building and I already have more than 30 knots. I still have 150 miles to sail to get to the entrance to the Bass Strait. I look like having thirty knots all the way through. I shall be entering between King Island and Tasmania in around 8 hours then sail across the north of the latter. I’ll come out between Clarke Island and the eastern tip of Tasmania early tomorrow morning. It’s really strange during a Vendée Globe to go along the coast and smell land see the city lights. In 2003, when I sailed my Virbac-Paprec 1 home after she was built in New Zealand we went through the Bass Strait. It’s surprising going through here again some thirteen years on.”
Ranking (Top 5 of 29 as of 22:00 FR)
1. Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA), 10155 nm to finish
2. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson (GBR), 213.37 nm to leader
3. SMA, Paul Meilhat (FRA), 1422.37 nm
4. Maître CoQ, Jérémie Beyou (FRA), 1471.13 nm
5. Quéguiner – Leucémie Espoir, Yann Eliès (FRA), 2331.35 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.
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