Vendée Globe: Not Over Till It’s Over
Published on January 7th, 2017
(January 7, 2017; Day 63, 15:59 FR) – British solo sailor Alex Thomson was today looking for the slightest opportunity to pounce on Vendée Globe leader Armel Le Cléac’h as he prepared to continue their unrelenting duel in the northern hemisphere. Frontrunner Le Cléac’h crossed the Equator today at 0023 UTC, marking the start of his ascent through the North Atlantic towards the finish line of the solo non stop round the world race in Les Sables d’Olonne, France. But hot in pursuit was Thomson’s Hugo Boss, just 118 miles adrift at the 1400 UTC position update and 20 miles shy of the Equator.
The pair, who have been locked in battle for much of the race’s 63 days so far, are still on record-breaking pace some four days ahead of the time set by 2012-13 winner François Gabart. There was little time for celebrating however – both skippers are now immersed in the Doldrums, a notorious band of constantly-moving low pressure, renowned for its ability to snare sailors. While Le Cléac’h’s lead is relatively comfortable is does not mean the pressure is off the 39-year-old Breton – he must forge a lone path through the Doldrums at the head of the fleet. Thomson, on the other hand, has the benefit of being able to assess his rival’s route and adjust his own accordingly to avoid potential pitfalls. If Le Cléac’h stumbles and is held up, even for just a moment, it could provide the opportunity Thomson needs to threaten his counterpart’s lead.
Speaking on the Vendee Live show today Thomson said, with just 3,000nm left to sail, he was not prepared to let Le Cléac’h slip away. “Is there a possibility to catch up? Maybe,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. The weather isn’t entirely clear and when things are constantly changing then there’s an opportunity. I’ve been working hard trying to find those opportunities. I feel exhausted you just become used to being tired, it becomes normal. The Doldrums is just another part of that. I’m still very motivated and pushing for the win. It’d be great to be fighting for first place right up to the finish line, and I’ll be trying my hardest that’s for sure.”
Jean-Pierre Dick was today up into fourth place, leapfrogging Yann Eliès and Jean Le Cam thanks to slightly stronger winds on the western edge of the St Helena High. Meanwhile Bureau Vallée’s Louis Burton was still battling a 35-knot Argentinean depression but his 16 knots of boat speed made him the day’s fastest skipper.
After fixing a broken rudder on his yacht La Fabrique, Swiss skipper Alan Roura said he was focused on overtaking 12th-placed Fabrice Amedeo before reaching Cape Horn some 2,000nm away. “I was really tired with all the stuff I had to fix but now I’m really happy, I’m 2,000 miles from the Horn, I’m back and I’m stronger than ever” said Roura, who at 23 years old is the youngest skipper in the fleet. “I want to reach it in less than eight days. The plan is to catch up with the others – I want to be ahead of Fabrice at Cape Horn. The fight is still going, there is a long way still to go in the race, and I’m really happy to be here.”
One place behind in 14th, some 6,000nm off the pacesetters, American skipper Rich Wilson revealed he had enjoyed his best sleep in weeks thanks to a pair of noise cancelling headphones that drown out the sound of the outside world. “I got very tired of the wind howling through the rigging, reminding me how inhospitable it is outside”, the Great American IV skipper told Vendée Globe HQ today. “I had read after the New York to Vendée Race that Jérémie Beyou had used noise cancelling headphones to try to get some peace and quiet. I bought some, and tried them last night for the first time. “Often on the boat you are alerted to things going wrong by different sounds so you don’t want your ears covered up but I just had to do something to escape the weather. I listened to the chants of Benedictine monks – it was peaceful inside the headphones and howling outside. I slept very well indeed! I’ll use them again but they’re not for every day.”
There was good news too for Sébastien Destremau as he set off from his anchorage in Port Esperance, Tasmania, after fixing a broken spreader. TechnoFirst FaceOcean skipper Destremau, bringing up the rear of the fleet in 18th place, has more than 4,000nm to sail to Cape Horn. But Stanislas Devorsine, master of French supply ship L’Astrolabe, reported Destremau to be in good spirits as they passed him en route south to the Antarctic.
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss): “I imagine over the next few days that Armel will slow down and I’ll catch up a bit, then he’ll get out of the Doldrums and extend away a little bit. I don’t expect there to be any miraculous change but there is always an element of luck. I had a very good crossing of the Doldrums going the other way, so hopefully I won’t be in too much pain this time. The Equator crossing means nothing to me – passing the Doldrums is the milestone here. The situation looking forward appears quite complex going into the north Atlantic but the models are at least in agreement about how it’s going to pan out. it just depends on where the high pressure is going to be centred as we approach it. Everyone thinks when the wind is light it’s not as tough but it’s the opposite – you have to work much harder. There’s definitely some hard work over the next two days to get through this area.”
Ranking (Top 5 of 29 as of 22:00 FR)
1. Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA), 3016.7 nm to finish
2. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson (GBR), 126.7 nm to leader
3. Maître CoQ, Jérémie Beyou (FRA), 811.5 nm
4. StMichel-Virbac, Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA), 1649.4 nm
5. Quéguiner – Leucémie Espoir, Yann Eliès (FRA), 1653.9 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
December 18, Day 43 – Thomas Ruyant, Le Souffle du Nord, UFO collision
December 24, Day 49 – Stéphane Le Diraison, Compagnie du Lit – Boulogne Billancourt, dismasted
December 24, Day 49 – Paul Meilhat, SMA, keel ram failure
January 1, Day 57 – Enda O’Coineen, Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland, dismasted
Source: Vendee Globe