In the Vendee Globe, if you have neglected one part of your preparation, for skipper or boat, the Race will find you out. It is a race that always rewards the ready and the lucky. Halfway around the world, the weather gods continue to smile on the leading boats, but the 47-year-old Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3), in his third Vendée Globe, needed all his courage and physical training to climb his mast. It is a perilous activity at the best of times let alone in the Southern Ocean.
Javier Sansó sought shelter by Tenerife when he needed to go up the mast in the Atlantic, the third-placed Dick took advantage of a lull in the weather before the big low pressure system arrived on Wednesday, to make the two hour trip about 20 metres up his 30 metre mast. As an example of how close to chest the skippers play their cards in the psychological battle with their rivals, as he was preparing his trip up the mast Dick told Vendée Globe TV on Tuesday: 'It’s magical here, beautiful.' He did add that it was stressful but there was no mention of the drama about to unfold.
A message from his team on Wednesday said that Dick had been unable to use his staysail and gennaker for two days now and had climbed the mast on Tuesday night (French time – day in the southern hemishpere) to replace the hook for their rigging. He depowered his boat so that it was running downwind. It explains why his speeds had been so far down over the previous 24 hours.
'I had been waiting for favourable weather conditions to climb up the mast for several days. It is a risky type of operation but I had no choice,' Dick wrote. 'You’re by yourself, there’s strong wind and a rough sea and, to top it all, it’s cold and you’re in the screaming fifties. Needless to say, you ask yourself a lot of questions before climbing up there.
'I waited until the conditions were calmer and I set Virbac-Paprec 3 running downwind to slow her down to 10 knots. Climbing up the mast and going down was quite perilous, you’re shaken right and left, I wasn’t very confident. I managed to replace the damaged part.
'I’m very happy I did it because in this part of the world, you don’t get that many opportunities to go and become an aerial acrobat. Virbac-Paprec 3’s potential is back to what it used to be, which is great news for the rest of the race.'
Those difficult questions are do you risk exit from the race, injury and your life or do you want to try and win the race. It was ‘only’ two of the nine headsails that the skippers are permitted to take but without them he would have no chance of clawing back the 510 miles that the two leading boat are ahead of him. As it is, Dick could not have hoped for better as he has only lost around 130 miles from the exercise.
The elastic will be stretched through the fleet some more in the next 48 hours as the leading boats benefit, albeit by clinging on grimly, to the low-pressure system that has swept south from the Tasman Sea.
Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) was benefitting most averaging 20.4 knots in the last four hours and closed the deficit on the leader Francois Gabart (Macif), who is only nine miles north east of him, to just 3.9 miles.
Almost likewise for fourth-placed Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) and Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat), who is just 17 miles behind in the ranking and 15 miles northwest of Thomson. They are 823 and 840 miles, respectively, west of the leader and 330 miles from passing south of Tasmania and entering the Pacific.
Javier Sansó (Acciona 100% EcoPowered) continues his charge, averaging 420.6 miles at 17.5 knots over the last 24 hours, the best in the fleet. He is just 53 miles behind Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud). Mike Golding (Gamesa) in seventh place, has been cursing his luck after hitting a ridge of high pressure, but is through it now and has made 50 miles back on Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) in the last 24 hours at the 1500hrs (UTC) ranking, to leave him 150 miles.
Alex Thomson (GBR, Hugo Boss): I was in my bunk this morning when the pilot accidently gybed the boat in about 25 knots of wind. It was not an enjoyable moment, having your whole world turn on its side in an instant. I felt the boat start to go and jumped out of my bunk to try and get to the helm to stop it but I only got as far as the companion way before she went, and then she was on her side. It took me a while to get the boat upright again and then gybe back. I did a check around the boat and it seems that I got away with no serious damage. It is really rough out here. Very bumpy and really confused waves. I am trying not to go too fast at the moment as she starts to slam a bit.
Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA, Banque Populaire): We’re in a northwest wind and the conditions are getting a little worse. 35-knot wind with even stronger gusts and that should last for 36 hours, taking us to the New Zealand gate. Yes, I did crash on waves a few times, which is logical when you see how big the waves can be in the Southern Ocean. We’re halfway through and I’m glad to be there. We can’t always sleep well, I’ve slept very little in the past 36 hours because I had a lot of sail changes to take care of.
Tanguy de Lamotte (FRA, Initiatives Cœur): Last night, I was cooking dinner while keeping an eye on the boat when we were literally hit by a huge side wave that completely shook the boat and filled the cockpit with water… I have to say I had serious doubts, not knowing if the water would eventually go away fast enough. Yesterday, Nao and I put up our Christmas tree…
Javier ‘Bubi’ Sansó (ESP, Acciona 100% EcoPowered): My computer is going crazy, or maybe it’s the weather that’s going crazy! Sailing south of the gate is not an option, there’s no wind there, so I’ll probably have to go closer to Tasmania. But there’s a depression building up in the south of Australia so I have to keep an eye on that, too, it could get nasty. My plans for Christmas are quite simple: I’ll eat sweets! I need some sweets! But I also have turron and jamon, that will be a very special Christmas meal, especially with the presents my family gave me.
Mike Golding (GBR, Gamesa): I’ve lost in both directions, but you’ve got to learn to switch off, you’ve got data on the boat you know what the boat should be doing, you know whether you’re making mistakes. I think there’s always a certain frustration when you feel you don’t have the right sail for the conditions, but you’ve got to get on with it. Up to a point we weren’t doing too bad, but this last week has been horrific.
François Gabart (FRA, Macif): I’m currently at 22-24 knots, and there’s a lot of noise. I’m very happy Armel didn’t sail away after the gate. Now I need to be careful and make sure I don’t push myself too hard. Sometimes, when you’re tired, you get nervous or mad really fast. I’m glad to be halfway through and to be on my way back home. I’ll try to do as good, and possibly even better, in the second half.
Jean Le Cam (FRA, SynerCiel): I always sleep with my legs to the front of the boat, it’s a basic rule when sailing. I have bruises, nothing is broken, I’m pretty sore but I will recover.