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Vendee Globe – Leaders brace for final test

by Vendee Globe on 20 Jan 2013
Francois Gabart onboard Macif is just around 400 miles away towards the Azores High - 2012 Vendee Globe © François Gabart / MACIF
With Francois Gabart (Macif) taking small gains from trailer Armel Le Cleac’h (Banque Populaire), the positions of the top four leaders in the Vendee Globe Race seem settled until they reach the final test in their round-the-world voyage: the Azores high.

While the first and last in the fleet enjoy relatively comfortable sailing conditions, the situation for the middle five remains very complicated for the skippers.

The dueling is back on in the South Atlantic. Mike Golding (Gamesa) kept hold of fifth place for only one ranking as Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) passed him on Saturday night. Le Cam, reaching in stronger 17-18 knots northerlies than Golding after tacking, is only 10 miles ahead, with a 260-mile lateral separation. The way to the equator, 1,150 miles ahead, looks complicated. Le Cam has the added frustration of advancing remaining constantly vigilant for maritime traffic and the presence of oil platforms, some of which are not on the charts.



'It is still pretty horrendous just now although the wind has stabilized,' Golding wrote this morning, 'but for me it is heading just now which is not ideal and there is not much I can do about that. I have only so much runway, I will probably go east again in about six or seven hours. I am not worried about Jean, I am just sailing my own race. But the writing is on the wall for him. I am not too worried about him.'

'It is better than it was yesterday when I had squalls all the time. I had up to 30kts which is a lot when you are set up for 15. The seas are still choppy and awkward, not like bone crunching, but just awkward. I don’t know why it is so bad but it feels like this has gone on forever. I saw what Jean was saying about the South Atlantic and I do agree that we really have sailed the hard yards now and hope that the last bit, the North Atlantic, is kind to us.'

On a trajectory between the two ahead, Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud) chased down Javier Sansó (Acciona 100% EcoPowered) on Saturday night and moved into seventh place reaching north east. Sansó, the furthest east of the middle group of five, is 20 miles behind.

Arnaud Boissières (Akena Verandas) is in danger of being dropped by the four ahead and is extremely close to the Brazilian coast – just 10 miles from Cabo Frio – and averaged just 5.7 knots overnight.



At the latitude of Cape Blanc, a small peninsula 60km between Mauritania and Western Sahara, Francois Gabart (MACIF) is just over 153.2 miles ahead of Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) this morning. Gabart averaged 16.2 knots to Le Cléac’h’s 15.8 knots overnight.

Their arrival at the Azores, the semi-permanent high-pressure system in the North Atlantic, is scheduled for late Tuesday morning. The leaders will be poring over the charts as they head there in steady north east tradewinds with relatively mild sea conditions that will allow them not to tap into their reserves of energy before the big final sprint.

In the wake of the two leaders, the two battling for the podium are also waiting for the challenge of the Azores. Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) is still nearly 250 miles ahead of Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss). Both lying to the west, they are slower than the front two, averaging 13.4 and 13.7 knots respectively. Dick is nearly 400 miles behind Le Cléac’h. But Thomson can take strategic risks because he is 1,514 miles ahead of Le Cam.



While the middle five struggle with northerly winds, the three at the tail are enjoying a kinder South Atlantic ascent. Sailing downwind in a southerly wind of around twenty knots, Bertrand de Broc (Your Name Around the World with EDM Projects) is 3,460 miles to the leader anyway. Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives-core) has kept a steady 150 miles astern of him. 4,435 miles behind Gabart, Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique) mounted the mast to fix his halyards. His speed was back up to almost 15 knots over the last Vendee Globe Race

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