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Vendee Globe - Rollercoaster ride south is on for the leaders

by Vendee Globe on 15 Nov 2012
Macif, Francous Gabart Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI / Vendée Globe © http://www.vendeeglobe.org
In the Vendee Globe, the rollercoaster ride south is on for the leaders, as on the heels of strong breezes from the north, speeds for the pacemakers surged this afternoon, finally freeing them from the shackles of the high pressure ridge and a frontal passage, which combined to form the biggest strategic challenge of the solo nonstop round the world race thus far.

Speeds for the hugely impressive longtime leader François Gabart have hit 20kts this afternoon as he consolidated his margin at 52.5 miles, regaining 12 miles lost this morning against his key adversary Armel Le Cléac’h. He has been just a ‘click’ slower on Banque Populaire over the middle of the afternoon than his younger rival.

And the threat to Le Cléac’h’s second place from hard driving Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm on the powerful Cheminées Poujoulat – five miles behind - is very real.

Gabart’s strategy so far has shown a maturity almost beyond his tender years. Not only did his choice to stay south allow him to keep making miles down the race course while his rivals were slanted west to line up through light winds, a high pressure ridge and the depression, but the resulting angles he has sailed over the course of today and his greater distance from the low pressure centre appear to have blessed him with a less chaotic sea state which has simply allowed him to drive harder and faster.

In contrast, certainly through the early part of today, rival skippers were talking of big, unruly confused seas precipitated by the changing wind directions.

The comeback of the day though is that of Vincent Riou. The 2004-5 Vendée Globe winner has risen back through the rankings from ninth this morning to fourth this afternoon as his more extreme, early move to the west has paid a dividend. But though he has gained places, his ascent of the fleet has in no way dented his deficit to the leader. In fact, he has lost a further 20 miles.

The fast downwind conditions, another drag race with no immediate tactical choices, are set to last another 24 hours at least. But with the seas lining up in a more orderly fashion as they proceed south, the tempo will be high but much more acceptable than today’s succession of changes which have left many skippers wearied.

Meantime the race’s ‘Benjamin’ the youngest soloist, 27 year old Louis Burton, confirmed this afternoon that he will try and sail the 700 miles back to Les Sables d’Olonne with a badly damaged port shroud. The Bureau Vallée skipper struck a glancing blow off a fishing boat in the dark, early this morning in bad weather. The skipper of Bureau Vallée believes his ascent back across the Bay of Biscay will take him around four days. The race rules prescribe that the start line closes at 1302hrs on the Tuesday 20th of November. According to Burton his biggest hurdle is having to replace the custom shroud itself, the manufacture of which would normally take three weeks.

The weather is due to ease for his passage back to Les Sables d’Olonne but his immediate problem is that he cannot tack on to port and needs to stay mainly on starboard.


Burton said: 'My main emotion is just shock and I am pretty depressed that I have to get back to Les Sables d’Olonne'

'In fact I was going through the front and had a couple of hours to go and had 30-35kts of wind. There was very poor visibility, rough seas and I had the radar and the AIS on. I was under the canopy to nap a bit and was making about 20kts. I turned my head and saw a medium sized trawler slide along the hull. I grabbed a light to inspect the hull in a panic to see if it was OK. I was relieved but then saw the damage to the shroud. I tacked on to starboard immediately and focused first on Lisbon looking to get to land as quickly as possible,' reported Burton this afternoon.

His challenge is arguably greater than that of Briton Mike Golding who lost his mast eight hours into the 2000-2001 race. He returned to the start port and stepped a replacement to restart seven days after the fleet.

Ranking other International :

8 Alex Thomson, Hugo Boss +147 miles to leader
11 Acciona 100% Eco Powered, Javier Sanso, ESP, + miles to leader
12 Mirabaud, Dominique Wavre, SUI +198 miles to leader
14 Savéol, Samantha Davies, GBR, +287miles to leader
15Team Plastique, Alessandro Di Benedetto, ITA, +320 miles to leader
18 Energa, Zbigniew Gutkowski, POL, + 597.6 miles to leader

Javier ‘Bubi’ Sanso, ESP, Acciona 100% Eco Powered: Today it is good. It has changed now with the front. We are getting close to the centre and so it is very busy, very busy. It is not too gusty right now, probably 12-18kts, 14-15kts on average, very cloudy. I am quite tired, since yesterday I changed sails many times from genoa to Solent, to one reef, to two reefs, to 32 kts, to Solent to full main and right now I am pretty sleepy. I happy with my race so far. I am not catching any miles, I have not really looked at my position recently. Right now the key thing is not to lose the pack, right now I am holding pretty well with them, and so it is just a matter of pushing a little bit when I can, but in general I am happy, very happy. It has just taken a little bit of time to get into the full racing mode, I have never had experience of this level before, and it is good. I am very happy with the performance of the boat overall.

Alex Thomson, GBR, Hugo Boss: It was another difficult night again last night, not helped by the fact that I am still not feeling great. I have been waiting for the front to come, sitting in an area of no wind. I was pretty close to Maître Coq last night so got on the radio with Jérémie Beyou and asked him to keep a look out while I tried to get a little sleep. I am still not into a sleeping routine. I managed to get another two 40 minutes kip, but that’s it. ' It is now squally conditions out here. It is eight to 30 knots and the sea is pretty lumpy so I am not sailing at 100% at the moment. Maître Coq sailed off with his J2 up and was faster than me, but I am happy to sail a little bit slower and more conservatively in these conditions to prevent any damage to the boat. I am currently making hay south. I am tired. But I am feeling good. And I managed to get all the jobs ticked off my jobs list yesterday… even with man flu! But my temperature is down and thankfully feeling a bit better today.

Bernard Stamm (SUI, Cheminées Poujoulat): What a chaotic sea, I feel like I'm in a roller coaster. I wasn’t expecting such conditions at this point. I hope it’s soon over because jumping over waves like this is difficult, I can’t stay up, and even squatting or kneeling is difficult. It's so noisy, it feels like someone keeps firing a cannon!

Dominique Wavre (taped, SUI, Mirabaud): The current weather is terrible, terrible rain. François Gabart is going so fast and making all the right choices. What a great boat and a great guy, he’s impressive. There’s still a long way to go. I’m behind, it’s tough psychologically, but if the wind is right, I could catch up in a few hours, you never know. In the meantime, I’m maneuvering a lot, it’s ok, I can deal with it. The boat was shaken a lot in the wind, I have bruises and a back pain. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to take pictures.

Louis Burton, FRA, Bureau Vallée: My main emotion is just shock and I am pretty depressed that I have to get back to Les Sables d’Olonne. In fact I was going through the front and had a couple of hours to go and had 30-35kts of wind. There was very poor visibility, rough seas and I had the radar and the AIS on. I was under the canopy to nap a bit and was making about 20kts. I turned my head bit and so a medium sized trawler slide along the hull. I grabbed a light to inspect the hull in a panic to see if it was OK.

I was relieved but then saw the damage to the shroud. I tacked on to starboard immediately and focused first on Lisbon looking to get to land as quickly as possible. At dawn I took some photos and sent them to the technical team to give them an indication of the level and type of damage. For sure the damage is just too much to continue like this. There might be a way to get back to Les Sables d’Olonne and away on time, but we need to make a custom piece which will not be easy because it usually takes about three weeks.

For the moment I'm confident. I'm trying to get the boat back to Les Sables as quickly as possible, taking into account I can't change tack without the risk of capsizing I will try to get back to Les Sables d’Olonne as quickly as possible to save as much time for the repair. I am still 700 miles from Les Sables d’Olonne. The conditions will weaken as of tomorrow. The routing I have just now has me getting there is four days but there are tacks on to port which I cant really make and so I am not really sure how long it will take me. It hurts a lot because of the big investment for so long, with all the sponsors like Bureau Vallée, for the whole team. It is such a shock, a feeling of injustice. Of course it is part of the sport but a setback like this is not easy to deal with. You just don’t believe it will happen.

Mike Golding (GBR, Gamesa): It looks like five days down to the Doldrums entry point and it will be reasonably fast, but then it will soften down and we'll be back into more traditional North Atlantic sailing conditions. We are set here on an extended starboard tack, so a chance to settle down and once I have the boat back up to speed and out of the bad conditions, I'll be able to get some rest and eat. Put some fuel in the fires before the next installment. '[The Vendée Globe] it's always a shock to the system, what can you do to get over that? More sailing, one could argue, but the reality of it is nothing really prepares you for the fact you suddenly realise have this huge race in front of you and these boats are increasingly tough and powerful and everything is pretty heavy and the boat becomes less complicated, but that almost makes life harder. It takes getting used to and takes a while to settle down into a proper, sustainable rhythm. 'Alex [Thomson] is interesting, he is not a particular benchmark any more than anyone else. I always look and see where he is, what he is up to, just the same as everyone else.


Arnaud Boissières (FRA, Akena Vérandas): Last night wasn’t easy because the wind was so weak, I stayed up all night. Yesterday, I got to wear my swimsuit, the weather was so nice. Now I'm facing 2-meter waves and 20 knots of wind. I changed sails a lot, my wrists are sore, I can’t wait to get some sleep. I had time to check various things on the boat and I'm glad to say everything is fine on Akena Vérandas. I should be able to go south in two or four hours. I was quite close to hitting a cargo ship earlier today. I’m sorry for what heppened to Louis, he’s a great guy. I’m very Vendee Globe website

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