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Vendee Globe - Brits excel in the Doldrums

by Vendee Globe on 21 Nov 2012
Alex Thomson, Hugo Boss - 2012 Vendee Globe © Christophe Launay
In the Vendee Globe, Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) and Mike Golding (Gamesa) have been two of the big winners in the Doldrums. Thomson was down to sixth at the 1600hrs (French time) ranking, having been up to third this morning, but just 2.3 miles separate the five boats chasing the leader, Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire). Thomson made up eighty miles as the fleet compressed and has been able to bank that.

The chasing five have been breathing the same stale air for the last 18 hours and almost eyeballing each other they have been so close - they have all been rinsed, literally and figuratively. There was little time for sleep as they had to take care not to get caught out by sudden wind changes and squalls. But the surprise is Le Cleac’h has not got away from them and still only leads by 26.6 miles from Vincent Riou (PRB) in second. Le Cléac’h did look to have an easier night by comparison though as he drove directly south-west.

Boiling one minute, drenched by a thunderstorm the next and then utterly becalmed in the inky black night, it has been a testing period. 'I have never experienced a Doldrums like that before,' Riou, the 2004 winner and competing in his third consecutive Vendée Globe, said. At one point in the morning he was totally becalmed.

The five chasing boats have bobbed and weaved constantly and although it is unstable, Thomson is convinced he is out of the worst - and he looks to be right.

'It was a really tough night last night and I haven’t been able to get any sleep,' Thomson said. 'It was like one constant squall. It was monsoon rain for seven hours straight. I had practically no wind at all, so I have been steering by hand the entire time.

'I think I am out of the Doldrums, but every time I go through the Doldrums I always think to myself: ‘now Alex, you know, whenever you think you’re out, it means that you’re not’. I get my dry clothes out and then bang, it starts all over again.

'But I do think I am now out. I am sailing upwind. I am completely exhausted but I can’t get any sleep just yet. I have the boats all around me and I can see them, so I want to stay awake at the moment.'

Golding, in seventh, has closed 120 miles while those in front have struggled and has entered the Doldrums further west, usually a more favourable angle because they are historically narrower there. Yesterday afternoon, he is still making 12 knots, 141 miles behind the leader, with old sparring partners Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud) hot on his tail still.

'Now I am just waiting to see if I stop,' Golding said on Tuesday morning. 'At the moment there is a lot of lightning and rain and some big nasty clouds around. But so far, so good. It would be nice if we can keep some of these miles we have gained. It would be nice if we could keep all of them.

'It is a very dynamic area. The model I am looking at now is probably old now but then I have committed to my strategy and if I suddenly need to be sideways 50 miles I cannot just do that. But I am not too worried.'

'The big (clouds) ones can bring wind ahead of them and then nothing in their wake, and that calm can last for hours. They track with the gradient wind and so you generally try to avoid the biggest ones, but if one is coming at you and has your name on it you cannot avoid it.

'So now I am looking for some steady upwind in a SE’ly wind which would signify we are starting to get out, but you don’t hold your breath.'

Meanwhile, at the back of the fleet and heading east, 1656 miles behind, Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutkowski (Energa), has still not been able to re-join the race. The software problem in both his autopilots that caused the wipe out remains. But although the tough Polish skipper is losing miles he showed he hasn’t lost his sense of humour. 'I’m going in the direction of Morocco I think right now,' he said. 'But I’m not going to Morocco (laughs).'

He is testing the autopilots after instructions from B&G, the makers, but has not found the fault. 'Two days ago I received a long email from B&G office (who make his autopilot) with a list to do,' he said. 'I am trying everything but the new set up on the B&G autopilot - nothing has changed to be honest. I need a little bit more wind to check everything. This morning was gusty conditions, so I went downwind with 20 knots of boat speed but it was exactly the same situation - the autopilot was not giving exactly what I was putting as the heading for the boat.'

'I’m going with the wind right now, I cannot go south directly because there’s a big high pressure hole directly below me with no wind. I can’t check things with no wind so I’m going with the wind, that’s the plan.

Bertrand de Broc (Your Name Around the World with Projects EDM) enjoyed the best 24-hour run at the 1600hrs ranking, with 314 miles and has made a sterling comeback after leaving late when a collision with rigid inflatable support bad left a small hole in his hull. De Broc is in 11th place, 501 miles behind the leader.

Sam Davies (Savéol) one of the five skippers forced to abandon, from the twenty who started, has decided to deliver her wounded boat home under jury rig from Madeira and spoke movingly about her sense of loss and why the slow boat home is better. They will stop at Cascais in Portugal, 300 miles away before heading back to France when the forecast improves.

'I was just dreading that Xavier (David), my team manager, was going to tell me I had to get on a plane home and go and see everybody,' Davies said. 'I think he realised that there was no way that I could do that and that it was better for me to stay here.' Read the full interview here.

Armel Le Cléac'h (FRA, Banque Populaire): The Doldrums are behind me, the sky is clear this morning. We took the opportunity to rest a little after a rather complicated 24 hours. Behind, they are grouped in the Doldrums and I took the opportunity to increase the gap between them and me. It's the charm and the difficulty of the Doldrums; you don’t know how you are going to be eaten. We have suffered but behind it seems to have gone pretty well for those chasing. We will count the points tomorrow when they will be out and see the impact of the Doldrums in terms of ranking and the gap between the boats. For now the road to go to the first ice gate is not very fast. We'll see how it will evolve; the conditions are quite normal at this time of year.

Vincent Riou (FRA, PRB): I’m beginning to see the end of the tunnel, for an hour, the wind is established and I am close to something that seems to be early trade winds. I had never experienced a Doldrums like that before. Last night was awful with squalls in all directions and incredible rainfall. It was tiring to manage. Things are beginning to be in place and soon time rest will come. Yesterday I sailed for a long time edge-to-edge with Alex Thomson and I see others from this morning on the AIS. I have not had much time to scan the horizon and look for them. We had very changeable conditions; we did not have five minutes with the same setting on the same sailing and tack. It was very agitated.'

Bertrand de Broc (FRA, Votre Nom autour du Monde avec EDM Projects): This is great but I would like to be a little more in the race. But the road is still long. Since my slightly delayed departure from Les Sables d’Olonne, I have not taken the same route (as the others) but I had a little taste of the Roaring Forties and Fifties (in the conditions he has had). There are still 80 days of navigation, so I have time to be back in the game. I feel that the Doldrums is quite happy of seeing me coming; in any case a little more than the leaders.'

Dominique Wavre (SUI, Mirabaud): Since yesterday evening, Jean Le Cam, Mike Golding and I have passed through a huge storm with a lot of rain and wind which have forced us to go upwind. But what is good is that we have almost never been stopped. The sky is completely dark. The sea is gray, like the English Channel, but it is mostly very messy. The wind rises and falls without warning, we do not see much on the water so you have to be vigilant. French speaking people will perhaps have to fight against the English (laughs). We make a nice little trio, so it will be a nice little fight, it's very motivating. I am already suffering the Doldrums. The wind went from eight knots to 20 knots in a minute. Suffering is one thing, but as it is windy I'm not complaining too much. We are entering the Doldrums when others are leaving it. The gaps might become bigger.'

Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA, Virbac Paprec 3): It's very, very hard with squalls up to 35 knots. We are in a group of five boats with an incredible fight, it's unbelievable. I was with François Gabart, there were a series of gybes to try to touch the wind. I hope we will soon get out of the Doldrums because we cannot say it was nice to us. What a horror. I am surprised that nobody had a problem; the fellows in the lead are all very sharp. Everyone fights, it's a great fight. In tough seas like this, seeing boats fighting, it’s really Vendee Globe website

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