In the Vendee Globe, if there is to be a time for rest, repairs and recuperation after the first three days of racing, it has been granted over the last few hours and into the fourth afternoon at sea. Long anticipated light winds have slowed large sections of the fleet and while these are frustrating and require equal amounts of concentration and application as when it is breezy, so too the solo skippers have been ensuring that the slower times have been time to top up the energy reserves, to thoroughly check over the boat and to make good any small repairs that are required.
At the front of the 18 boat fleet the advance of François Gabart continued again this afternoon. The skipper of Macif, somewhat against the expectations of his rivals, has been fastest of the leading group, still eking out speeds of 10-11kts in the relatively light breezes. His position as the most southern of the top group was expected to see him slow into the unpredictable soft breezes of the high pressure ridge but so far the redoubtable, energetic Gabart seems to remain immune from the slowdown.
Otherwise the pace is right down. The middle order battlers, sixth to 13th, were suffering with boat speeds down to very low single figures. Javier Sanso, the Spanish skipper on Acciona 100% Eco Powered was crawling along at 1.2kts, Vincent Riou on PRB at 2.1kts now in 10th place, and Dominique Wavre in 12th at 3kts. Riou’s fall from the second place sees him now having lost 113 miles on the leaders, now only 66 miles from the Swiss skipper on Mirabaud.
Riou said this morning he was expecting to break out into the strengthening breezes of the low pressure system by this evening. Thereafter he will be into strong upwind conditions, with building seas, rain and gusts of up to 40kts of wind which will require the 2008-2009 race winner to be prudent through this transition phase before he should be first to get to the fast reaching conditions on the other side.
A S’ly routing has continued to pay for the British skipper Mike Golding on Gamesa who has spent most of the day up in fourth position. Golding’s maxim has been to make hay while he could, carefully working down the best lane of breeze that he could find. He was locked in battle this afternoon with longtime rival Jean Le Cam on SynerCiel tussling over fourth and fifth. Their route back to the west is looking more time consuming with lighter and more variable winds, but the consensus among the skippers who have aired their views is that there will be little real change in the order after this stage – northwest v southeast – plays out.
Briton Alex Thomson, suffering slightly from a throat virus which prevailed around the race village pre-start, remarked on today’s radio vacation that he is content with his race so far, proving his credentials once again between fourth and eighth in the rankings, but he echoed compatriot Golding’s sentiments of just how much the first 24 hours of the Vendée Globe are a big physical and mental shock. But most of all Thomson had been shocked to watch fellow competitor Marc Guillemot lose his keel on Saturday afternoon.
'Actually I was alongside Safran and looking directly at the boat when the keel fell off. And I have to say for Marco if he had not have eased the sheets so quickly the boat would have gone over.
I was only about half a mile away. And I was looking directly when I saw the boat heel violently and thought there was a big gust coming. And when it stayed over I thought oh shit maybe his keel hydraulics have gone, you don’t really think of the possibility of the keel falling off.'
'It is always a shock to go from Les Sables d’Olonne right into the Vendée Globe the first 24 hours are very hard, pretty stressful and you don’t get much sleep. But I feel like I am now in good shape' Thomson confirmed.
Speaking with his team Golding said this morning: 'You are nervous anyway until you settle into the race. I have been acting as if I had been in car accident and that is not about winching or the physical activity, but just the adrenalin which is there through the first days. But now I have caught up on my rest last night and feeling better all the time. But when you see such good, very experienced sailors go out you can suddenly have times when you do feel exposed out here.'
Thomson has been busy repairing a blown ballast tank hatch, Sam Davies has been in full Mrs. MacGuyver mode, with a main halyard jammer problem on her list of require repairs, whilst Golding has some small gremlins to iron out. With strong winds and fast conditions ahead, making sure the boat and skipper are back to 100% is vital.
François Gabart, FRA, Macif: I'm fine, it is going well. There is quite a bit less wind than yesterday. Meantime I will keep on going in order to find more wind. The aim is to cross this transition zone as quickly as possible. I'm almost on the same line as Bernard which is interesting. Down here to the south of the group we should cross this area a little later than the others.
Vincent Riou, FRA, PRB: I'm OK but at the moment I am going through the high pressure ridge and I think I will be out of it by the end of today. Hopefully within about two to three hours I should have some more wind. As far as the fast pace to Cape Saint Vincent goes the good weather conditions have made it a fast start. The first night was pretty intense. The boat is OK with no problems.
Armel Le Cléac’h, FRA. Banque Populaire: I'll see how things are going after the high pressure ridge, we’ll get a better view within 24 hours. But meantimes I am happy with the start of my race. The seas have been much quieter since last night and I have been able to sleep. On Sunday morning I hit something hard with my head, I saw some stars but now I'm alright.
Jean Le Cam, FRA, SynerCiel: It's sunny, I'm wearing my underwear, socks and Crocs. I sail with a spi sail at the moment. The start was quite easy, no need to tack at all. I saw Virbac Paprec 3 twice last night, She was coming at me. It was a little scary then but now I'm laughting about it.
Alex Thomson, GBR, Hugo Boss: It is always a shock to go from Les Sables d’Olonne right into the Vendée Globe the first 24 hours are very hard, pretty stressful and you don’t get much sleep. But I feel like I am good shape. I did no think about it much but when you see what happened to Kito it is very, very hard on Kito and of course I was in a similar situation. And actually I was alongside Safran and looking directly at the boat when the keel fell off. And I have to say for Marco if he had not have eased the sheets so quickly the boat would have gone over. I was only about half a mile away. And I was looking directly when I saw the boat heel violently and thought there was a big gust coming. And when it stayed over I thought oh shit maybe his keel hydraulics have gone, you don’t really think of the possibility of the keel falling off.
The agenda today is to try and get through the high pressure. It is very light now we have not had more than four or five knots and just trying to keep the boat as far west as possible and hopefully get a couple of jobs done as possible. I managed to blow a lid off the ballast tank, the lid broke and so I took the remains of one that is left and stuck a new one on it. It must have filled too fast and blown the lid off, it is just a little plastic inspection hatch so it took me about half an hour.
I feel OK. Once the new boats do get going it is very difficult to keep pace with them. I think it will be interesting to see what happens in this situation. The routing has been showing that we should go west and cross the ridge and then go into the low pressure, cross the centre through the front and then head south. I have run routes for all the boats that are to the north of me, and it kind of looks like it is all going to come out fairly equal or similar. The only difference is that the boats that are trying to cross the ridge now, that is PRB, Banque Populaire, myself and Maitre Coq are going to end up further west than the boats which are south. I considered the southerly route and Macif are doing it, it looks a bit more risky, the ridge can be a little more wider. But if I was Vincent on PRB I’d be fairly happy where I am now.'
Vendee Globe website
by Vendee Globe
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8:46 PM Tue 13 Nov 2012GMT
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2012 Vendee Globe
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