In the Vendee Globe, sailing their own match race into the open wilds of the Pacific, the leading duo have begun to extend away again. But not from each other. Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) said he could see Francois Gabart (Macif), no more than two miles away they passed the Auckland Islands, on the radar overnight. For his part, Gabart sent home a video trying, but not wholly succeeding, to show Le Cléac’h’s sails in the distance.
The two did not hesitate as they crossed the Campbell Plateau, with the big rough seas caused by the vertiginous shelf on its western boundary. Le Cléac’h spoke of hand steering through an area where the human touch is more responsive than even these modern autopilots.
Le Cléac’h maintained the slenderest of leads – just 2.2 miles – at the 1500hrs UTC ranking. 'We could see each other (Gabart) in the fog,' Le Cléac’h said. 'I wanted to talk to him on the VHF, it didn’t work, but, no, I’m not mad at him or anything. I’m definitely keeping an eye on him, though.'
Denis Horeau, the race director for four of the seven editions (the first in 1989 and the last three since 2004-05), cannot remember anything like it. 'Never,' he says. 'There are two reasons, firstly the gates have changed the strategy and the second is that they are very similar sailors in the boats that have both been made by Michael Desjoyeaux (the only two-time winner of the race). They are getting the same weather files and they have the same conditions so it is natural they are in the same place.'
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) and Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat) have joined the three in front in the Pacific. Thomson had seen his lead cut to three miles after a double northeast. Thomson is slightly slower than Stamm and is looking for an advantage by playing the navigation card as Stamm continued on the road south east. From the south, Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3), has also decided to go north-east to try to catch the tail of the northwest wind that propels the leaders.
If the Indian Ocean is anything to go by the gains the leading duo make here could be significant. Nine days ago, at the first ranking of the morning at 0400hrs UTC of Tuesday, December 11, as they passed through the Amsterdam gate, just 159.6 miles separated Francois Gabart in first and Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) in fifth. Mike Golding (Gamesa) in sixth was just 653 miles behind.
But as they dived southeast with the northwest winds of a low pressure system, Le Cléac’h and Gabart gradually burnt off the rest who fell out of the back of the fast moving system and then suffered in the transition. Thomson peeled east at the Amsterdam gate with technical problems, Stamm was forced to join him on December 12 and Dick had to head east to the West Australia gate on December 14. By 0400hrs on December 14, Dick was 247 miles behind and Stamm, then in fifth, 525 miles.
Banque Populaire en vue pour Gabart by VendeeGlobeTV
Dick had ‘only’ lost 168 miles in 72 hours, Stamm 407. But from there, sailing in different systems, the losses multiplied. 36 hours later at the 1500hrs ranking on Saturday, December 15, Dick was 490 miles behind, Thomson 801, Stamm 859 and Golding, who had dropped to seventh behind Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel), 1672. The losses have stabilised since then, but the damage was done.
Speaking to Vendée Globe TV, Brian Thompson, the record-breaking circumnavigator who was fifth in the last Vendée Globe, said that small boat advantages meant big gains in the south.
'If you can stay ahead of that front you can ride that wave, rather like a surfer, that wave of wind, for hundreds, maybe thousands of miles,' Thompson said. 'If you fall off the back of that, say you’re going one knot slower and you fall off the back of that wind, you’re suddenly going to be doing five-six knots slower on the backside of the front.
'So, if you can be fast in those conditions, 25-knot broad reaching, then you can accumulate and compound the advantages that you’ve got over the other people. Those two boats, especially Francois (Gabart) with his 24-hour record shows that when you’re in that northwest wind before a front you can go incredibly fast.'
Read the rest of the Thompson interview here
Replay : Le live du Vendée Globe du 20 décembre by VendeeGlobeTV
Alex Thomson (GBR, Hugo Boss): I am firmly back in the south after my excursion to the north and my meeting with cyclone Claudia which turned out to be a little disappointing. Anyhow my worry was getting back to the south and now I am here so mission accomplished. I have had a few mishaps on the way, nothing that is a major problem but they have made life difficult and uncomfortable. It is bitterly cold down here now and I have several layers on even when in my sleeping bag I have a heater onboard but it burns diesel so whilst I am in power saving mode and conserving fuel, using the heater is a no go therefore it is like some sort of torture having all the capabilities of making heat but not being able to use it. It is not to bad with lots of layers on until I have to work hard and then I am dripping wet with sweat, like the sails it’s hard to find the middle ground!The road ahead is quite clear and I should be well past New Zealand by Xmas day. Then it’s to Cape Horn and I hope and pray it is a quick, warm and painless crossing. Having been dismasted halfway across the Pacific before I know how dangerous and isolated this stretch of water is. The trick is to survive down here and get to Cape Horn in one piece, you never win the race in the Southern Ocean but it’s all too easy to lose it down here!
Mike Golding (GBR, Gamesa): It's been a fairly quiet period, we are moving quite nicely still, but now we are lifted so we'll be gybing very shortly I think. We are almost dead downwind, so shortly gybing and it looks like we have a few gybes to do. The four of us have really been compressed back together, Dom 100 miles behind, Javier 100 miles behind that, Jean is 140 or something ahead, so a very tight group. It will be tricky conditions here, which will rely on us being vigilant on the right gybe at the right time. It will be fairly close.
There are some benefits to a slightly more northerly route, like Dominique Wavre's. In the longer term, looking at the routing on the file - it depends which file you look at of course - but looking at the European file, which seems to be the most reliable at the moment, there are some possible benefits to being slightly north. On his approach to us, he has benefited to another couple of knots of wind, while Jean and I were skirting the lighter airs to the south.
Of course it is an improvement to be closer to Jean, but we have two boats that were a long way behind us that are closer now. It will be like how we were a few weeks ago, interesting sailing and an interesting race. It keeps it enjoyable, so from that perspective it is good. Obviously not good and disappointing to lose miles to those that you thought you had left behind. It is going to be an interesting few days.
Tanguy de Lamotte (FRA, Initiatives-coeur): I’m fine today, the weather is nice, quite a lot of wind but a sun and clear sky too. It was nice to have lunch in such conditions. The wind is between 18 and 22 knots and I have the right sails for that, the boat seems to like it, so we’re sailing at 14 knots. It’s pretty cold outside when the sun is out, but it can get warmer during the day, especially when the wind is down. I try to sleep when it’s dark outside, regardless of the actual time. We’re sailing east so we keep changing time zones. I’m very proud to have a drawing by Bernard Chenez on board, he and Catherine are among the people who made it possible for the boat to compete in the Vendée Globe.
Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA, Virbac Paprec 3): Yes, I’m doing fine, even though it’s cold. It’s moving a lot, there’s a lot of wind, I’ll have to manoeuvre right after this phone call. I’ll have to gybe so I can go north a little bit, hoping the conditions will be easier. I’m not sure about that, though. I had to climb the mast and to stay two hours up there because there was quite a lot to do, a damaged part to be replaced. I had to climb in the B2B Transat, too, it always helps to have an opportunity to practice that kind of thing. I had to slow down for this call, my speed is around 17 knots, with a very impressive sea.
Dominique Wavre (Sui, Mirabaud): I don’t tell you that (whether he’s staying north) because I imagine the others would like to know why I’m so north. In fact it’s because I was stopped in the high pressure three days ago, I ended up north but I don’t tell you if I’m happy about this position. I think Jean Le Cam will be quite far forward because he steers on the boat and he’s faster than us for the moment. Probably I will be separated by some 100 miles from Mike (Golding), so nothing is done between Acciona me and Mike.
Dominique Wavre aux aguets by VendeeGlobeTV
Javier ‘Bubi’ Sansó (ESP, Acciona 100% EcoPowered): It is my turn to have less wind than those ahead of me, and they are getting away from me a little right now, although in the next few hours we will all have the same wind again. What I am most worried about though, is how I am going to deal with the low pressure area that is forming right in our path to the south of Tasmania – it doesn’t look too good – and I think I will have quite an intense Christmas Eve. The southern option is not going to be possible because of all the calm areas and shifty winds, and actually up here at 47º, it’s not bad at all….14 degrees and almost some sunshine with the wind looking like it might hang in there a few more days. In fact the Indian Ocean is not going to make it easy for us to leave…Today it is almost sunny and the humidity has dropped from 85 to 55% inside the boat, which I am extremely grateful for, because at 85% everything is full of condensation and the sensation of cold is much greater. But I have to admit that it isn’t really cold yet, and by that I mean temperatures under 10º. Right now its 16º and that is fine.The solar panels are still taking on 100% of the whole power balance and I still haven’t had to use the hydro-generators nor any other charging system.
Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA, Banque Populaire): The night fell a few hours ago, it’s been a tough period lately, the last 24 hours were difficult. We sailed close to the Auckland Islands and the cross sea and huge winds - 50 knots - didn’t help. François Gabart and I could see each other in the fog, I wanted to talk to him on the VHF but for some reason it didn’t work so no, it’s not that I don’t want to talk to him (he laughs). I’m definitely keeping an eye on him, though! I don’t have any specific plan, François and I will just keep sailing the way we have so far, from one gate to another, and we’ll see. Once we reach Cape Horn, let’s see where each of us stands, and let’s see how the boats are doing, too. I know we’ll be happy to get there because we’ve enjoyed all the things we’ve experienced, but it will be nice to catch our breath a little bit.I spent time at the helm because things are going really fast so I need to be very careful. There was a very difficult hour, there could have been damage to the boat if I hadn’t been careful. But it went well eventually.
Vendee Globe website
Bubi passe le cap Leeuwin by VendeeGlobeTV
Résumé du 41e jour de course (VIDEO) by VendeeGlobeTV
Tanguy en visio-conférence avec des élèves du Mans by VendeeGlobeTV
by Vendee Globe
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6:32 PM Thu 20 Dec 2012GMT
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