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Vendee Globe - Alex Thomson crosses equator, Mike Golding gains

by Vendee Globe on 18 Jan 2013
Alex Thomson, Hugo Boss - 2012 Vendee Globe © Christophe Launay
In the Vendee Globe, Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) passed the last great mark of this edition, becoming the fourth skipper to cross the equator and enter into the North Atlantic in the small hours of Friday morning. Thomson crossed at 0255hrs UTC after 68 days 14 hours and 53 minutes of racing.

Like the three in front of him he was well inside the old record of 71 days 17 hours and 12 minutes set by Michel Desjoyeaux in winning the last edition in 2008-09. That is a more significant measure for Thomson because unlike the three new boats of the leaders, Hugo Boss is a second-generation boat. It was Seb Josse’s BT in 2008-09.

Whilst he is still pushing for the podium and even victory, there are other prizes at stake for the 38-year-old Thomson, not least just making sure he finishes on this third attempt at this race. If he does, in approximately two weeks time, he will surely break the British record set by Mike Golding. Golding, in sixth place, but 1,503 miles behind Thomson set the British record of 88 days 15 hours and 15 minutes, when he finished third in the 2004-05 edition of the Vendée Globe.

Thomson was slowed overnight as he passed the equator, averaging 11 knots. It will be easier to assess his chances when he has passed through the doldrums which he will enter to west of the rest on Friday afternoon. There are conflicting forecasts for what he will find, the truth is he won’t know until he is there.

646 miles ahead of Thomson and 300 miles from the latitude of the Cape Verde archipelago, the leader, Francois Gabart (Macif) is set to keep easing marginally further away from Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire). They are on the same road, but Le Cléac’h is 106 miles behind and Gabart is forecast to keep enjoying slightly stronger northeasterly winds on Friday.

It is a measure of how difficult a night it has been for most that Gabart had the best average speed of the first nine boats with just 11.6 knots. Le Cléac’h averaged 10.5 knots. More decisive gains and losses will be made around the Azores high to come.

On the same road as the leaders, two hundred miles east of where Thomson will pass through doldrums, third-placed Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) will hope that his are nearly finished. His charge back was stalled overnight as he averaged 6.8 knots – more like Gabart’s speeds than Le Cléac’h’s through the dreaded zone. He was forced to tack and though a steady northerly wind is forecast for him today, there will be no complacency as he was only averaging 4.4 knots in the last hour.

Sixth-placed Mike Golding (Gamesa) continued to gain on arch rival Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) but life is still a struggle in northwesterlies. The weather has been against the middle five, scattering them across the ocean. Le Cam has turned his back on Rio but has been easily the slowest in the fleet over the last 24 hours, averaging 5.1 knots and covering just 122 miles and that is after averaging 8.5 knots overnight. Golding, 500 miles east of him, has fared only marginally better, but averaged 10.2 knots overnight and has chipped Le Cam’s lead down to 23 miles. Golding and Javier Sansó (Acciona 100% EcoPowered), behind him on the eastern road, seem likely to enjoy Friday more though as the forecast is for a return of light and shifty winds on the far west for the other three. If they do not make it out of their coastal trap in time for the northerly wind then the losses will be more serious.

Two prizes go to the back markers. Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives cœur), in eleventh, was the fastest overnight, averaging 13.7 knots and Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique) sped past Cape Horn with the best 24 hour average in the fleet.

He became the 12th and last skipper in this edition of the Vendée Globe to pass Cape Horn at 1731hrs UTC on Thursday, January 17.

Given he has the oldest and only boat with a fixed keel in the race, his time to passing of 68 days 5 hours and 29 minutes compares favourably with history.

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