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Vendee Globe - Slashing the deficit and climbing the leaderboard

by Vendee Globe on 9 Dec 2012
Armel Le Cleac’h, Banque Populaire - 2012 Vendee Globe © Armel Le Cléac'h / Banque Populaire
In the Vendee Globe, after making his lone break to pass the Crozet ice gate at its westerly point, Armel Le Cléac’h has been out on his own for three days. The Banque Populaire skipper is now reaping a dividend for his astute choice, racing in a steady NNW’ly wind towards to the next control gate whilst his nearest rivals, led again by François Gabart (Macif) are only just extricating themselves from the light winds zone which has been protecting the gate. British skipper Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss has also sailed a clever strategy which has allowed him to catch up 100 miles on the leaders, bringing him back into the pacesetters pack.

Le Cléac’h, the French skipper who has lead this Vendée Globe most often and for longest, is back on the ascendancy. Since yesterday afternoon he has reinstated close to 100 miles of his temporary deficit, has averaged more than 16 kts and is less than 55 miles behind this morning’s leader, his young nemesis François Gabart (Macif). Le Cléac’h is up to fourth and travelling east whilst his rivals 145 miles to his north will very soon find themselves pointing their bows fruitlessly at the departing Banque Populaire which should cross their distant horizon later today. The group of four, Gabart, Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3), Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat) and Thomson have not had quite as tough a time in the calm zone at the gate as Le Cléac’h had but their progress remains slowed.

Alex Thomson’ gain will prove useful. His southerly route, besides everything else, meant he could rely on a measure of compression as the boats in front of him slowed first as they reached lighter winds. This morning at 0400hrs UTC he had less than 25 miles to the line which marks the ‘gate’ and was still making a healthy 10kts of boat speed. In such variable conditions Thomson will be doubly thankful that he has armed himself this time with a polyvalent, easily driven design which may lack the top end speed of some of the newer designs, but he is finding it much easier to adapt to small weather and wind changes than on some his ultra-powerful previous boats.

Thomson has placed himself very much in the mix again, just 55 miles off the lead this morning. Incredibly, as the race passes the four weeks at sea milestone today, there is still only 55 miles between the top five boats. But with Le Cléac’h expected to extend today this might not be for long.

Mike Golding (Gamesa), Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) and Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud) have had another highly profitable night, one which has hardly taxed their huge combined complement of ocean racing experience. Their passage towards the Crozet gate, 370 miles ahead for Golding, seems blessed with favourable winds. Making between 16 and 17 knots through the night Golding has been the fastest in the fleet again. Leading this trio Golding’s delta to the leader is now down to 470 miles.

Behind, just as much as at the front of the fleet, there are the hunters and the hunted. Arnaud Boissières is hopeful that his course well to the south of his Spanish rival Javier Sanso’s will help him reduce the 200 miles gap between his Akena Vérandas and Acciona 100% Eco Powered. Bertrand de Broc should pass his first ice gate today, Agulhas, with the Indian Ocean 100 miles ahead, and the highly motivated De Broc has Boissières only 200 miles in front as well. Tanguy de Lamotte is well to the north of the ice gate on Initiatives Coeur, whilst Alessandro di Benedetto (Team Plastique) prepares himself for his first big depression of the Roaring Forties. Vendee Globe website

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