Vendée Globe: Winner Decided on Thursday
Published on January 16th, 2017
(January 16, 2017; Day 72, 16:33 FR) – The Vendée Globe is going down to the wire with the leading pair of Armel Le Cléac’h and Alex Thomson preparing to turn east for the finish in Les Sables d’ Olonne.
Thomson has been playing catch-up since Le Cléac’h took the lead on December 2, but as the race enters its final few days, he has transformed from the chaser into the hunter, ruthlessly stalking his French rival in the hope of being able to deliver the killer blow before the race is up.
The British skipper delivered a timely warning to French skipper Le Cléac’h today when he smashed the world record for the greatest distance sailed solo in 24 hours (monohull up to 60 foot). Hugo Boss skipper Thomson maintained a staggering average speed of 22.4 knots in the 24 hours leading up to the 0800 UTC position update to notch up 536.8 nm. The distance breaks the 534.48 nm record set by François Gabart in the 2012-13 Vendée Globe that he went on to win, beating Le Cléac’h by just three hours.
In that respect the new record could be considered a good omen by Thomson, who is aiming to become the first Brit in the race’s 27-year history to win it. He actually beat Gabart’s record two weeks into the race, sailing 535.34 nm in 24 hours, but the rules of the record state it must be superseded by one whole mile. Thomson previously held the record between 2003 and 2012 with a distance of 468.72 nm. The new record will now be ratified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council.
Banque Populaire skipper and pre-race favourite Le Cléac’h has hardly been easing off on his run into the finish. Over the same 24-hour period he covered 515 miles at an average of 21.5 knots. By the 1400 UTC report Le Cléac’h was matching Thomson’s 21 knots of boat speed with a slim buffer of 78 miles at the latitude of Cape Finisterre on the north-west point of Spain.
Rather than head for the finish line in the Vendée port of Les Sables d’Olonne, the duo must continue north east to avoid the centre of an anticyclone currently blocking their path east. By tomorrow, the winds and therefore boat speeds will have dropped, and several days of light-wind sailing lie ahead. Both skippers are expected to finish on Thursday January 19, potentially just a few hours apart.
Throughout the fleet, today split by 9,000 nm from head to tail, there has been admiration for Thomson’s new record.
“Alex’s record is seriously impressive,” said New Zealander Conrad Colman, some 6,000nm behind the leaders. “I’ve been watching his average boat speed closely, and the idea of staying at 23 knots for 24 hours is absurd. I think the new generation of IMOCAs are incredible and as soon as I put my feet back on the ground I’ll be looking to cement a new project for myself and join the club ‘flying’.”
Yann Eliès, skipper of fifth-placed Queguiner-Leucémie Espoir, added: “It’s a great performance. Alex seems to be able to keep up average speeds a little above those of Armel, so we’ll be watching the final four days closely.”
Thomson was not the only skipper with cause for celebration today. Fabrice Amedeo in 11th and Arnaud Boissières in 12th both rounded Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America, to begin their ascent through the Atlantic to the finish line. Amedeo rounded at 0140 UTC with Boissières following suit just over four hours later.
Thirteenth-placed Swiss sailor Alan Roura will be next round Cape Horn, adrift by just 30 miles at 1400 UTC. Rich Wilson in fourteenth still has 150 nm to go. Meanwhile 65-year-old Dutch sailor Pieter Heerema passed Point Nemo, the most remote place on the planet more than 1,700 miles from inhabited land. “Now I want to get around Cape Horn as quickly as possible,” he said. “It’s a really key landmark. We’re now 70 days into this race and there’s still a long way to go. I’m enjoying it but I’ve also more or less had enough.”
Ranking (Top 5 of 29 as of 22:00 FR)
1. Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA), 700 nm to finish
2. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson (GBR), 74.96 nm to leader
3. Maître CoQ, Jérémie Beyou (FRA), 849.48 nm
4. StMichel-Virbac, Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA), 1598.41 nm
5. Quéguiner – Leucémie Espoir, Yann Eliès (FRA), 1781.0 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