Vendée Globe leader Armel Le Cléac’h has been successful in holding his most direct, optimum course towards the second ice security gate, Crozet, and should be able to pass its west mark before diving south early this morning.
Behind him his close rivals are already further south and sailing two knots faster in slightly stronger breeze. Tiredness is evident among the frontrunners as the chill of the Southern Ocean bites and the possibility of encountering ice increases.
Just as he managed in the high pressures zones of the Atlantic, Le Cléac’h looks to have traced something close to the perfect course as he times his passage to the westerly point of this second ice gate neatly in a diminishing breeze.
At 0400hrs UTC he had about 30 miles to make before he will almost certainly swing the bow of Banque Populaire south and hopefully accelerate progressively to match the speeds of his pursuers. Le Cléac’h’s ‘touch and go’ strategy should have saved him some initial miles on François Gabart, Bernard Stamm and Jean-Pierre Dick who have chosen to stay further south.
But this small gain may multiply as the leader now has free reign to work much further south in stronger breezes, as he has passed the gate, and needs only target the third gate, Amsterdam – 1500 miles east – as his next mark. But his concern will be how far he feels safe straying into the territory of reported ice, north of the Kerguelen islands.
François Gabart is understood to be still in second place, despite not being polled on the 0400hrs pass, but for sure the young Macif skipper has had an industrious night, working on deck to deal with the changeable, variable breezes brought by the high pressure system that they are encountering: 'The sea has calmed down. The wind has dropped too and it is exceptionally unstable. So it is not easy to rest but I will not complain, it could be worse. I manoeuvred on deck and the cold begins to be very noticeable. Ice can’t be far away.'
The youngest skipper in the race treated himself to some foie gras to celebrate his first solo passage into the Indian Ocean, presently sailing in territories which are new to him, now also much further east than the point at which he had to retire from the Barcelona World Race when he was dismasted with Michel Desjoyeaux.
Bernard Stamm on Cheminées Poujoulat drove south earlier yesterday than Jean-Pierre Dick who tracked Banque Populaire during yesterday, and this morning it looks like the Swiss skipper has been rewarded, taking third from Dick who has lost some 30 miles on both the leader and on Stamm since yesterday. The skipper from Nice is now 63.9 miles behind Banque Populaire, whilst Stamm on the powerful Juan Kouyoumdjian design has sailed the best 24hrs of the top group at 434 miles.
Alex Thomson’s plunge south on Hugo Boss sees him now at close to 44S and should see his breeze progressively increase today but it will only be on the ascent back towards the easternmost end of the gate that any real dividend for his route will be revealed.
Meantime the high pressure zone has been cruel to the trio comprising Mike Golding, Jean Le Cam and Dominique Wavre. Golding on Gamesa seems to be paying a heavy tax for staying a little further to the north than his two rivals and is slowed to between six and nine knots. Wavre has managed to skirt furthest to the south and has passed Le Cam, though the pair are racing only five or six miles apart. But this experienced pack’s losses to the leaders now amount to 190 miles over the last 48 hours, now at between 722 and 774 miles behind the leader.
After a bitterly frustrating few days snared in the light winds of an anticyclone Javier ‘Bubi’ Sanso will be in considerably better spirits on Acciona 100% Eco Powered, passing his first ice gate, Agulhas, at 0547hrs UTC this morning in a strong W’ly wind.
Despite his problems yesterday afternoon, Initiatives Coeur knocked over involuntarily when an autopilot ram became disengaged damaging at least four mainsail batten cars, Tanguy de Lamotte seems to making steady progress down the track this morning, between 11 and 14kts in what were forecast to be strong 25-40kts NW’ly winds, and the French skipper will be looking forwards to stable, easier weather to try and effect some repairs.
Arnaud Boissières (Akena Verandas) has been quickest in the fleet, sprinting towards the Agulhas gate at 18kts on his Farr design whilst the effervescent Italian skipper Alessandro di Benedetto is passing Tristan da Cunha this morning.
Armel Le Cléac'h avant la porte Crozet by VendeeGlobeTV
Vendee Globe website
by Vendee Globe
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12:32 PM Thu 6 Dec 2012GMT
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