Vendée Globe: Anxious and Uncertain
Published on January 14th, 2017
(January 14, 2017; Day 70) – Vendée Globe leader Armel Le Cléac’h today admitted tensions are running high as he clings to the narrowest of leads over Briton Alex Thomson just days from the finish line of the solo round the world yacht race.
Frenchman Le Cléac’h’s advantage had been whittled down to 113 nautical miles (as of 17:05 FR) as he and Thomson raced past the Canary Islands bound for Les Sables d’Olonne in France.
Little over 1,600nm now lie between Le Cléac’h and Vendée Globe glory, something the 39-year-old Breton sailor has been chasing relentlessly for the past 12 years.
Le Cléac’h, the pre-race favourite having finished second in the last two editions of the Vendée Globe, has led the race continuously since December 2 but it has been anything but plain sailing.
Hell-bent on becoming the first British skipper to win the race in its 27-year history, Thomson has been a constant threat to Le Cléac’h’s ascendancy.
Now, as the race enters its last five days with Thomson’s Hugo Boss within touching distance of Le Cléac’h’s Banque Populaire VIII, the French sailor said he was all too aware of what is at stake.
“It’s been a complicated race for me and the weather has been tricky to deal with but you just have to make do with the conditions you’ve got,” he said. “It’s going to be complicated all the way and it’s not a straight line finish into Les Sables so we’re going to have to cover more ground in some varied conditions. It’s going to be tight between me and Alex and we have a battle on our hands so it’ll be important to hang on in there, dig deep and push as hard as we can.”
After a costly crossing of the Doldrums and a slowed ascent north thanks to a depression that drowned out the north-easterly trade winds, the final hurdle for the leading pair comes in the form of an anticyclone, which they must cross in order to reach Les Sables. They will make the high pressure ridge in several days after 48 hours of especially fast sailing.
“I’ve just got to grit my teeth and focus on the finish,” Le Cleac’h said. “I do feel a little bit anxious about it. I have five very complicated days ahead of me and I wish it was a more relaxing scenario. I simply have to concentrate on the weather and making headway towards the objective step by step, and make sure I’m in front. I’m going to continue to mark Alex, though lately it’s been tricky to do that. The wind is due to kick back in tomorrow at which point it’ll be all about reading the weather and tactics right. My boat’s in good shape but I’ve no idea whether I have an advantage over Alex in terms of my experience of close-contact racing. Time will tell.”
Le Cléac’h is not the only skipper with clear intentions for the Vendée Globe finish. St Michel-Virbac skipper Jean-Pierre Dick today said that while keen to consolidate his position in fourth he was eagerly eying up third place currently occupied by Jérémie Beyou on Maître CoQ. At the 1400 UTC position update Beyou was 500nm ahead but Frenchman Dick said he had not lost hope of usurping his fellow countryman before the finish.
“The podium is not set in stone,” said Dick, competing in his third Vendée Globe. “Anything could happen. In my mind, I’m still on the attack and keen to get my boat back safely as she isn’t what she was when I set sail. I must focus on keeping hold of my fourth place, even if I’m looking ahead to Jérémie. Three hundred miles can be made up or lost in a day or two.”
Sports journalist-turned-solo sailor Fabrice Amedeo was this afternoon less than 400 miles from Cape Horn in 11th place, followed closely by Arnaud Boissières around 30 miles to the south-west.
The duo, along with Alan Roura and Rich Wilson, are expected to pass the milestone on the southern tip of South America late tomorrow in strong north-westerly winds.
The current ETA in Les Sables for the Vendée Globe leaders is Thursday January 19.
Ranking (Top 5 of 29 as of 22:00 FR)
1. Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA), 1547 nm to finish
2. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson (GBR), 105.63 nm to leader
3. Maître CoQ, Jérémie Beyou (FRA), 553.36 nm
4. StMichel-Virbac, Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA), 1064.51 nm
5. Quéguiner – Leucémie Espoir, Yann Eliès (FRA), 1357.93 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.
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