In the Vendee Globe, just 48 hours ago, Francois Gabart (Macif) was 274 miles ahead of a stalling Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) and some had begun crowning the young king.
On Wednesday afternoon it is a different picture. The doldrums may have redistributed the wealth and Le Cléac’h may be able to bank some miles. Like all the top four skippers he is beginning to steam in his cabin in temperatures that will hover around 40 degrees. But it is Gabart that will be feeling the pressure now. At 29, the youngest in the fleet, Gabart has seemed publicly impervious to stress so far and has been setting the pace since passing Le Cléac’h in the South Pacific on December 31. But as the finish line approaches the pressure will grow and their ocean match race could restart tomorrow.
Gabart’s lead is just 78.7 miles and falling fast. He is technically out of the doldrums and Le Cléac’h is in them, but weather files and what one finds on the water are not always the same, especially in this dreaded part of the ocean. 'The weather files aren’t always reliable in this complicated area,' Le Cléac’h said. 'So we also use satellite images to see how different reality is.'
Seeing Gabart’s struggles from before he entered the doldrums, Le Cléac’h headed slightly east, only 30 miles, but enough, perhaps, to find a better passage.
Gabart was reduced to averaging just 7 knots in the last four hours and only 9.9 knots over the last 24 hours in which he has lost 127 miles. It is slow enough to suspect that he may making repairs. Le Cléac’h was still making 14 knots over the last four hours and 15.2 in the last 24. Normally Gabart would hope to extend away now but the forecast for the next 48 hours looks complicated and Le Cléac’h could catch him before he escapes.
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Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) has also won back 200 miles on Gabart in the last 48 hours, having trailed by 706 miles on Monday and 504 on Wednesday afternoon. Dick continues to be the fastest in the fleet, averaging 15.9 knots over the last four hours and 16.1 over the last 24, covering 386.5 miles. The forecast suggest Dick will have these 14-16 knots southeast tradewinds until the equator and could make significant ground on the two ahead. It could yet be a three-horse race into Les Sables d’Olonne.
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) will be hoping to make it four. He has only been able to watch in frustration, although his speed was picking up and he too should benefit once he passes the longitude of Recife and leaves the coast of Brazil behind. In the last four hours he has already begun to pick up the same breeze and speeds as Dick, averaging 14.7 knots.
Victory may be unlikely but he still has a chance of the podium and was already feeling more positive in his message earlier today: 'Yesterday was supremely frustrating, but I had a fairly steady wind overnight and today has been encouraging so far,' he wrote. 'In 100 miles or so I won’t have to worry about the coast of Brazil and the wind should start to move more to the south east and hopefully I can ease the sails and go a little faster. I want to stay a good way off the coast for now to make sure I do not get any disruption in the wind caused by the land effect. The weather files show my doldrum crossing point should be less painful than the others but I have heard that one before and we will have to wait and see. I will be in the doldrums in two days.'
But fellow Briton, sixth-placed Mike Golding (Gamesa), continues to suffer. He was the slowest in the fleet over the last four hours – averaging just 6.4 knots and it will have been only small consolation that Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) was only averaging 9.4 knots. But like Javier Sansó (Acciona 100% EcoPowered) behind him, he is happier on the eastern side of the middle group of five boats, away from the coast of Brazil. Given what has happened ahead of them between Thomson and Dick, the winner of the different strategies may not be clear until after the doldrums, but that’s another headache for another day for this group.
Jean Le Cam, Synerciel - 2012 Vendee Globe - Vincent Curutchet / DPPI
Alex Thomson (GBR, Hugo Boss): Yesterday was supremely frustrating, an encouraging morning followed by big squalls in the afternoon which were more full of calm areas than much wind. I had a fairly steady wind overnight and today has been encouraging so far. In 100 miles or so I won’t have to worry about the coast of Brazil and the wind should start to move more to the south east and hopefully I can ease the sails and go a little faster. I want to stay a good way off the coast for now to make sure I do not get any disruption in the wind caused by the land effect. The weather files show my doldrum crossing point should be less painful than the others but I have heard that one before and we will have to wait and see. I will be in the doldrums in two days from now and then back to going upwind again. I have started monitoring the long term forecast to see how I am going to tackle the Azores High, no decisions will be made until I am out of the doldrums but it is good to get a feeling for what is happening. Really hot and humid inside the boat today but better than the freezing conditions at home.
Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA, Virbac Paprec 3): There are now 290 miles between Alex and I and I gained 100 miles on François, which really boosts my morale. I need to keep up the effort and come back on the leaders. The gap between Armel and I hasn't changed much - 448 miles - because he is also coming back on François.
Tanguy de Lamotte (FRA, Initiatives cœur): (Looking at the times of past Vendée Globes) is a way to see how well I’m doing compared to the age of the boat. Of course the guys in front in this race have a better boat and more preparation and I’m three days ahead of Ellen’s (MacArthur in 2000-01) time and I’m still ahead of Michel Desjoyeaux from 2000. So a better time than Michel Desjoyeaux in 2000 in a boat from 2000 is a pretty good time and also compared to the last race I’m one day ahead of Brian Thompson who is a friend and it’s nice to know. I finally got some sleep after rounding Cape Horn and having a tough night of sail changes. I hadn’t slept for 36 hours but I had taken naps before because I knew this long period without sleep was coming. I had very particular Cape Horn conditions, I had to gybe four times but I could still see the Horn in the distance. The quieter time after that was more than welcome. The Horn is a big landmark, I’m proud I reached it on this boat, with the help of everybody who is involved in the project. But it’s also a regular day of sailing, you need to stay focused.
Mike Golding (GBR, Gamesa): It had been starting to go as per the weather file which was encouraging, but I am on reefed main and the Solent right now with a bit more wind than I expected and I am getting lifted and so I am very confused. But I am pretty sure this is only temporary. It was definitely on its was in terms of what I expected to happen coming true. I am still happy with where I am. My routing looks OK. I go further our this side and then tack and should be off. Jean looks like he will just be sucked closer to the coast. And even if went horribly wrong on this side I still have a lot of runway, and this is giving me a bit of space on the boats behind.
Armel Le Cléac'h (FRA, Banque Populaire): We’ve crossed the Equator and we’re now in the northern hemisphere, it’s great to have the letter N back on the GPS after a month and a half of S. I talked on the VHF with a boat from Brittany, there are Bretons near the Equator! I’m fighting 100%, always trying to have the best sail configuration and the best route. It’s getting very hot in the cabin once the sun is up so it’s hard to stay clean and shave. The weather files aren’t always reliable in this complicated area, so we also use satellite images to see how different reality is from the info we get from the files. Sorry, I’ve got to go, there’s a light squall coming!
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Javier Sanso (ESP, ACCIONA 100% EcoPowered): It has been a slow and complicated day, but at least it was slow for all the boats near me, or it could have been very frustrating. I had between one and zero knots for a few hours. Theoretically there was a passage for me to get through, but the reality wasn’t anything like that. Today was the first really hot day and I brought out a lot of the wet clothing that was inside the boat. I have been doing maintenance work all over, checking that everything is going well and reviewing certain areas which have suffered a little more wear and tear. Some parts of the boat are beginning to appear a little bit worn down and need a little more attention and some part changes, which is quite normal after 66 days of racing. The weather is still tricky.
I am really looking forward to getting into the Saint Helena high (even though it is upwind) and getting out of this atmospheric instability that is making the routing so unpredictable for anything over 24 hours. If all goes well, I will start making my way up the Saint Helena high pressure zone in about 26 hours, that is if the strong lows that are appearing on some models don’t make things too complicated! Both Akena and Mirabaud look like they are quite far now, but I am not too trusting because in this situation, sailing close to land may well be the right tactics. But I just don’t know, nothing is really quite clear yet. As far as Mike is concerned, we are going to be in the same system in a few hours and it will be difficult to take any miles from him.
Bertrand de Broc (FRA, VNAM avec EDM Projets): I’m fine, the last two days have been calmer, it’s like a new life started for me. It’s nice when the southern conditions finally stop, especially since my cape Horn rounding was pretty tough. I have a few days of good wind ahead, but then it will get more complicated. The weather is changing a lot. Right now I have 20 knots of wind. The boat has had a few little issues, the rudders aren’t doing too well, I need to check the hydrogenerator, replace ropes and repair the genoa. I’ll wait until it’s sunnier to do it. I’ve been unable to use it for a while…
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Vendee Globe website
by Matthew Pryor - 6:31 PM Wed 16 Jan 2013 GMT
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2012 Vendee Globe
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