In the Vendee Globe, a second podium finish may be a distant dream for Mike Golding (Gamesa) now, but he has unfinished business in his battle with Jean Le Cam. Golding passed Le Cam, moving into fifth by the narrowest of margins – 0.8 miles – at the 1600hrs UTC ranking. They have been duelling for most of the 70 days of this race after doing so for much of the 2004-05 race, when Le Cam beat Golding into third place.
Their different strategies have taken them to different sides of the South Atlantic, as with all of the middle five boats, the weather has been exceptionally unfortunate for them. Le Cam said it was the worst South Atlantic passage he had ever endured.
'I have never seen the South Atlantic Ocean like that,' Le Cam said. 'It’s been going on for three days so I’m waiting for the situation to change. I’ve been very unlucky since New Zealand, I’m the World Champion of bad weather conditions. I’m currently in a pinball machine where my boat is the ball.' Golding averaged 9.1 knots in the four hours since the last ranking and Le Cam 7.5 knots after he tacked east away from the Brazilian coast.
If Le Cam is having his worst experience, fourth-placed Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) is having his best.
'I had my easiest doldrums crossing ever yesterday with only two big black clouds and a slight slowdown,' Thomson wrote on Saturday. 'I was lucky that as I was crossing the area the doldrums were moving south and I was quickly into the north easterly trade winds. Feels great to have ticked off the doldrums and now the last hurdle should be the high pressure system before I get into the westerly’s for the final stretch to the finish.
'The weather files I get for as far forward as 10 days and this morning’s route has me 400 miles from the finish after 10 days, it's going to be great to see the route finish before the end. the weather files have consistently shown the same route through the high pressure system which gives me some confidence and it does not look too bad. It's still five days away so it could all change.'
Thomson’s routing suggests a January 29 finish, which would be consistent with an 80-day finish. He has conceded 26 miles to the leader Francois Gabart (Macif) so far on Saturday, averaging only 12.6 knots in the four hours since the last ranking. More significantly he has conceded the same number to Third-placed Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3), whose average of 15.4 knots was only 0.1 knots less than Gabart. Thomson is still far to the west of the rest and consequently his VMG is the least direct to the finish but he may be the first to pick up the westerly trade winds that will eventually replace the northeasterly ones.
At the front, 766 miles ahead of Thomson, Gabart has made only minor gains on Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) – just 1.2 miles in the last four hours – to lead by 141 miles. 'I’m slightly ahead of Armel right now, but the weather is going to change and Armel will come back a little, so it’s absolutely not over,' Gabart said. The more experienced Le Cléac’h will be able to draw on the experiences of winning close finishes. 'It’s not over until we cross the finish line,' Le Cléac’h said. 'I’m still fighting hard, I won the Figaro race by 13 seconds, you know?' The current routing suggests January 26 night-time finish.
Seventh-placed Javier Sansó (Acciona 100% EcoPowered), like Golding, is also involved in a close east-west battle. Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud) closed to within three miles of him after averaging 9.5 knots over the last four hours, almost three more than Sansó. Arnaud Boissières (Akena Verandas) has climbed out of one hole, but just 100 miles from Rio, he may be dropping into another one.
The three at the rear are enjoying far more ideal weather but it is not plain sailing. Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives cœur) said his collision with a large branch had left its mark on his rudder. Bertrand de Broc (Your Name Around the World with Projects EDM) is engaged in repairs on his headsails while Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique) will climb the mast to fix his failing halyards. To be a Vendée skipper you have the patience of Job, the agility of the monkey, the nimble fingers of the seamstress, the insight of a sorcerer, the weather resistance of the buffalo. Versatility is without doubt, the best quality.
Alex Thomson (GBR, Hugo Boss): The wind has just shifted from the NE to the ENE NE and am tight reaching as close to north as I can get. It's pretty rough and consequently the boat is taking a bit of a pounding but not much I can do about that. I made a load of water yesterday and had a wash, my skin breathed a sigh of relief I can tell you. I have a very itchy rash all up my arms and legs from exposure to salt in the humid conditions. I have never had it so bad but in a couple of days when it cools off it should go. Just need to not itch it! Overnight as I exited the doldrums and got into the new breeze it was very gusty so required a lot of attention for me, not much sleep but I don't care, great to be in the trade winds. The heat affects the sleeping but also the amount I eat, both of which I do more at night when the cabin cools down to 30 degrees. Won't be long until I am back in the thermals, I actually can't wait!
François Gabart (FRA, Macif): Hi, I’m doing fine, there’s a lot of wind, the boat is fast today. There are a lot of waves, though, it’s very noisy when we crash against them, sorry if I can’t hear you too well sometimes…It’s not difficult to stay focused until the end, because it’s what we need to do, very simply. The fact it’s coming to an end doesn’t change anything. But I’m happy it’s over soon. The weather is a little tricky but I’ve still managed to progress well lately. I’ve been faster than the others for a few hours but it will change soon. The key to our speed is the improved boats we sail on and the way we sail, we’ve trained hard so it helps us all improve as skippers. We’ve also had quite favourable weather conditions explaining our speed. It’s going to feel strange to be in the middle of a huge crowd once we’re back in les Sables. I’ll need to make sure I still have time with my family and friends. But I have a very good team and the people at Mer Agitée are used to Vendée Globe finishes. And so is Michel Desjoyeaux. Sure, I’m slightly ahead of Armel right now but the weather is going to change and Armel will come back a little, so it’s absolutely not over. I’m not saying there’s going to be a problem, I’m saying I still need to fight and work hard. Yes, sometimes we do feel down, when something went wrong, when the weather isn’t good for us… All you can do when that happens is focus on what you have to do and it usually passes…
Jean Le Cam (FRA, SynerCiel): It’s been such a hard race for me. I’m like a soldier training in the mud, crawling under barb wire, with the general making it even difficult for me. I have never seen the South Atlantic Ocean like that… It’s been going on for three days so I’m waiting for the situation to change. I’ve been very unlucky since New Zealand, I’m the World Champion of bad weather conditions. I’m currently in a pinball machine where my boat is the ball! Last night, I was asleep and an alarm went off. It was two boats in the area. After checking everything was all right, I suddenly had a craving for sausages, so I had one with crisps! Enjoy skiing in Paris but don’t catch a cold or break a bone!
Alessandro Di Benedetto (ITA, Team Plastique): I've just come back to my original heading after recovering my torn gennaker that had fallen overboard, as well as some spare parts. The gennaker is back where it belongs and I've set up a new circuit for the port rudder blade, which had had to take the pressure of the damaged gennaker when it fell down. The rudder has not been damaged and it is back in its original position. Two halyards broke, though, as they fell inside the mast. I'm currently under solent and main sail as I can't use the spinnaker or gennaker because of the missing halyards. I'm waiting for the right conditions to climb up the mast so I can attach at least one of the spare halyards I have on board.
Armel Le Cléac'h (FRA, Banque Populaire): I’m holding on tight and making sure Banque Populaire goes as fast as she can through frequent settings changes. It’s not over until we cross the finish line. I’m still fighting hard, I won the Figaro race by 13 seconds, you know? It’s hard to tell what can explain our speed this year. Technology of course, our boats are very fast. The weather may have helped us a little bit too, even though the ice gates made the route longer. If we sail two or three percent faster than four years ago, the difference in the end can be a few days. This is like a marathon that has already been going on for more than two months now. Sure, there are tough moments but we try to stay focus on our daily routines: Weather, work on the boat, etc. It’s not always easy but there’s something amazing in the end: The finish. I think I can still win, which is why I’ll give my best until the very end to try to pass François. There is no snow here, but a lot of sand in the wind!
Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3): The autopilot went crazy last night as I was sleeping, and Virbac Paprec 3 suddenly tacked. It happened very fast, in two seconds, and in situations like these, you just jump out of your sleeping bag, wondering what's going on. I was back in my initial route not even ten minutes later, but it was definitely something to do it all in 25 knots of wind. I had to throw away all the preserved cheese and dried meat I had. I tried to eat some yesterday, but they had gone bad, I guess it's because of the many temperature changes. I still have freeze-dried food, of course, but I'm getting tired of it. I've picked my favourites, which means in the end I'll have the ones I don't like left. I just can't wait to eat a good steak!
Arnaud Boissières (FRA, Akena Verandas): It may not be the Copacabana Beach or some other fancy spot in Brazil but here is what I've been experiencing for the past 24 hours: Oil rigs with boats watching over them. At night, they have light halos around them that you can see from far away. The wind was shy last night, not to say absent, but it was back a little before dawn this morning. What a relief! That Brazilian spoon is going to take forever but the routing is pretty optimistic. If I keep going like this, I may reach Rio by the end of the evening but sorry, the Ghanabara Bay people won't get to see the beautiful bird with colors like Brazil's. I haven't planned on stopping there. It's tempting, but I'm afraid I can't, I have a chorizo to take care of! Everything's fine on board. It feels like I'm out of the no-wind tunnel soon so between naps and manoeuvres, I stay focused on settings while listening to music. Not just Brazilian, but also a nice selection by Rock and Folk's DJ Tom. From Vendée to the Alps, enjoy the snow and the weekend!!!!
Tanguy de Lamotte (Iniatives cœur): First I thought it hit the keel because I only heard one noise but I managed to put my head out and saw what it was that I hit. It was kind of a big branch or small trunk. It wasn’t a massive one. In the morning I managed to look at the rudder - in the night I saw it so I knew it wasn’t broken off - but in the morning I realised that the rudder was making quite a lot of whitewater and waves and it is damaged just underneath the hull. It just damaged the leading edge so you can see the shape of the piece of wood that impacted the blade, but it’s not structurally damaged. It was quite scary, the strong part of the rudder, the thickest part of the blade, is still intact and hasn’t been damaged, so the rudder is working alright, it’s just making a little wave extra, but it gives me nearly all the control I need to control the boat. We know that we can hit things and it’s not always a reason to stop the race, but this noise was pretty big but I knew it didn’t break anything on the boat. When the boat stops, you feel how quickly that happens and that tells you immediately how big the thing you hit is. When I hit this piece of wood I knew it was something not too big and not too solid. If I hit a container it will make a big noise and lot carbon (damage). If I hit a whale it’s a bit softer. We have this kind of scale of hardness of what we hit and it gives us a quick idea of what it is.
Vendee Globe website
Day 71 highlights by VendeeGlobeTV
Replay : Le live du Vendée Globe du 19 janvier by VendeeGlobeTV
Réparations réussies pour Alessandro by VendeeGlobeTV
Tanguy constate les dégâts by VendeeGlobeTV
Vendée Globe 2012 - Week 10 Highlights by VendeeGlobeTV
by Matthew Pryor
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