In the Vendee Globe, the toughest South Atlantic that any of the skippers stuck in it can remember is beginning to turn the screw on supplies. Being dropped by a fickle wind or battered by a north one is one thing, but sixth-placed Mike Golding (Gamesa) has revealed that just having enough to run his auto-pilots in the busy shipping lanes for the finish is increasingly becoming a worry.
'We are looking at five days added to the route, potentially, by the problems in the South Atlantic,' Golding, who has 4310 miles to the finish, told Vendee Globe TV. 'That puts extra pressure on everything – fuel, food, and this has been a very hard period for the boat as well; going upwind in strong breeze, fully ballasted puts extra pressure on the boat.
'Things have not been easy as we have not had hydro generators since the Southern Ocean. While we did load some fuel, we had a plan that covered a lot of bases – we have hydro, solar and fuel – we tried to cover our options. However, trying to predict our fuel usage from the beginning of Southern Ocean to the current point has been very difficult and now we are very low on fuel. So yes, pretty nerve-racking.'
Golding agreed with his arch-rival, Jean Le Cam, who is just 12 miles ahead and to the west in fifth place, that this is the toughest South Atlantic he has faced in all his races. 'I have to agree with Jean when he says this is the worst South Atlantic conditions ever,' Golding said. 'I’m just trying to get out of here like Jean (laughs). The reality of it is that is has been a shocking few days and taken forever to get into the lift and we still have some more manoeuvres ahead of us, so we are not out of it yet. I don’t see an appreciable lift really until tomorrow evening. I think my current position is a good thing in the long run, but Jean is doing a very good job of mitigating his losses.'
Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) has been the fastest in the fleet over the last 24 hours, averaging 15.4 knots and making 369.8 miles. He has won back nine miles from Francois Gabart (Macif) over the last 24 hours and is 144.7 miles behind. That is not such a deficit if they were heading downwind, but it is tough to bridge upwind in these northeasterlies. Le Cléac’h will hope they pick some downwind as they skirt the Azores high. Unless there is a dramatic change in the forecast they will stay west and do a left hook east into Les Sables.
They should start feeling the effect of the Azores high tomorrow and such has been Gabart’s speed over the last two days that the routing software – something all the skippers have on board to calculate the optimum route of their boat in the forecast weather - is predicting a slightly earlier finish now, in less than a week on Saturday, January 26 – after 77-day.
Gabart revealed under questioning on Vendée Globe TV that the flow of radio banter between the two, who have been locked at the front for the whole race, dried up in the Atlantic. 'Armel and I haven’t spoken at all since Cape Horn,' Gabart said in a neutral manner. 'The last time was in the Pacific Ocean. We’ve seen each other, but if I remember well, we haven’t talked.' The stakes are high now and neither man will be happy with second.
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However, Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) is probably more intent on securing third place and holding off Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) than trying to win the race. Dick, the fastest in the fleet over the last hour with 15 knots, is 524.4 miles behind Gabart, 380 behind Le Cléac’h, but 252 miles in front of Thomson. They are both to the west of the leaders, with Thomson, who is in similar position to Le Cléac’h, running out of road to catch his man, still the furthest west. It may be that both men also need to do a left hook to the finish, but if there is a wind shift, Thomson, in the older, slower boat, may look for any opportunity to find a more easterly and direct path through the Azores high.
The danger is that Thomson sails into a windless area, gets stuck and gives up the chance to say he sailed ‘around the world in 80 days.’ In the end, for him and his sponsor Hugo Boss, personally and professionally, that may be a more valuable than coming third. But the competitive juices are flowing and an opportunity to strike will be too hard to resist.
Seventh-placed Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud) has extended a little from Javier Sansó (Acciona 100% EcoPowered), after passing him in the ranking on Saturday night. Wavre is 24 miles ahead of Sansó and has tacked north and is due south of Golding. If as forecast the wind veers west after first going east, he may stretch away.
Dominique Wavre, Mirabaud - © Thierry Martinez/Mirabaud
There have been some jokes about the skippers to the west heading to the Rio carnival or hugging the coast of Brazil, but ninth-placed Arnaud Boissières (Akena Verandas) really has been, spending Sunday making six knots ten miles from the coastline taking the more direct, if slowest route home.
The trio at the tail - Bertrand de Broc (Your Name Around the World with Projects EDM), Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives cœur) and Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique) continue to enjoy the best conditions in the fleet, surging downwind. After his climb up the mast to check the halyards, Di Benedetto established that his big gennaker, that had previously come down in the Pacific, is permanently unusable. Fiercely sensitive to the protection of the environment, he has decided to keep the sail on board despite its weight. But under spinnaker, the Franco-Italian sailor continues to swallow miles consistently. At this rate, Alessandro could arrive in Les Sables d'Olonne in a little over a hundred days, well below the 130 days of food originally planned. There may be a sale on salads with the arrival of Team Plastique.
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Jean Le Cam (FRA, SynerCiel): I’ve been unable to stand up in the cockpit for four days, it was pretty intense! Because I spent so much time on my hands and knees, I’m very sore now. I was very worried about the boat and the equipment but at least I slept well last night, so I recovered from that crazy assault course. I hope the drill sergeant hasn’t placed some more on my route. Crossing path with Mike Golding will be interesting. I think he should end up ahead but it will be very close. I’ve been in a fight with him since the start. When we sailed south in the same area earlier in the race, he was 60 miles ahead of me. We had already had a close race in 2004, I guess it’s our fate. Conditions should get better in the evening tomorrow, it’s going to be amazing. There will be a lot of upwind sailing in the next few days, we won’t be very fast but it’s ok, I’m not in such a hurry. My batteries are 100% charged and I have a lot of fresh water, so I’ll be fine. Now that the sea has calmed down, I’m going to have a shower with fresh water. What a treat!
François Gabart (FRA, Macif): Yes, we’re definitely going fast, but that’s because the boat has been perfectly prepared so she is at the top of her potential. It’s the same for Armel’s boat. I know everything is not perfect right now in France, with the snow and what’s going on in the news, but being on dry land can be nice, too, I can’t wait to be back.
There are more and more people in the area, and many things floating in the water, so we need to be very careful, even though I haven’t actually seen anything so far. I heard an artist even threw 2-metre dice at sea from the Canary Islands. I remember sailing with Kito (de Pavant) in one of my first navigations on a 60-foot yacht. He gave me precious advice, about how you’re supposed to be careful all the time. You know, I was impressed, Kito can see in the dark, like a cat. Armel and I haven’t spoken at all since Cape Horn, the last time was in the Pacific Ocean. We’ve seen each other, but if I remember well, we haven’t talked. Being back in Les Sables next weekend would be great, people wouldn’t be at work so there would be much more people coming to see us.
Javier Sanso (ESP, ACCIONA 100% EcoPowered): Right now I have 20-21 knots I am heading north. I am going to try and fight every mile (with Dominique Wavre), with every means I have. I really want to try to be ahead, I’ll do my best. The boat is 100% right now but I should manage to get close or at least try to hold him. But it’s more fun for us to be next to a boat. It’s a metre and a half waves, it’s not rough at all, but it’s bumpy. (On Jean Le Cam saying it is the most difficult South Atlantic he has faced) Definitely, I agree, he’s right, we are not having any break anywhere, the wind keeps shifting to the north, it doesn’t want to go right, it wasn’t to go normal. Once we get through this we have some calms before we get to the equator, it’s very very tricky.
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Usually you can relax for 300 miles before the equator, for us it’s going to be really hard. There’s not much you can do because you are bounced around, maintenance is at a minimum, you just do the stacking and that’s it, because you’re thrown around everywhere. It’s very uncomfortable inside. Looking back if I could anything I would have tacked earlier. This was a possibility but I thought the St Helena high was going to be more powerful and the low pressure a bit more south instead of so far east. That was a gamble I played and it didn’t come off as good as I had wanted. I would have tacked north maybe 24 hours earlier. I played a bit of all or nothing, going more east to make big gains, if the weather was going easterly early. But it was not. So, here I am, having lost a few miles, but still in the game. It’s close and if the wind shifts my way it’s even closer. I think the wind is going right, so I’ll make a little bit of gain there.
Arnaud Boissières (FRA, Akena Verandas): It may not be the Copacabana Beach or some other fancy spot in Brazil but here is what I've been experiencing for the past 24 hours: Oil rigs with boats watching over them. At night, they have light halos around them that you can see from far away. The wind was shy last night, not to say absent, but it was back a little before dawn this morning. What a relief! That Brazilian spoon is going to take forever but the routing is pretty optimistic. If I keep going like this, I may reach Rio by the end of the evening but sorry, the Ghanabara Bay people won't get to see the beautiful bird with colors like Brazil's. I haven't planned on stopping there. It's tempting, but I'm afraid I can't, I have a chorizo to take care of! Everything's fine on board. It feels like I'm out of the no-wind tunnel soon so between naps and manoeuvres, I stay focused on settings while listening to music. Not just Brazilian, but also a nice selection by Rock and Folk's DJ Tom. From Vendée to the Alps, enjoy the snow and the weekend!!!!
Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA, Virbac Paprec 3): I’m not in the best shape ever but things are all right. Of course, we’re tired, that’s natural after two months at sea in a race like this one. But I’ve slept decently well, so it’s ok. The young guns ahead have had an incredible rhythm, they’ve been hard to keep up with. I’ve had hook and halyard problems, I had to climb up the mast eight to ten times, but apart from that, the boat is doing ok. There’s a strange noise but I don’t think it’s anything serious. Jean le Cam, who hates water, had to dive under the boat. I hate climbing but I still had to do it. I wish it had been the other way around! I had an autopilot incident, the boat suddenly tacked, it’s always surprising when that happens, but it’s only happened to me twice in my entire career so it’s not that bad.
Jean Pierre Dick, Virbac Paprec 3 - 2012 Vendee Globe - © JM Liot / DPPI / Virbac-Paprec Sailing Team
Alessandro Di Benedetto (ITA, Team Plastique): So far, what I’ve repaired is working. What I did wasn’t ideal, but it was apparently enough to keep going. I’ve hoisted the spinnaker but I know I can’t use the gennaker any more, it’s in the sails peak because I didn’t want to pollute so I didn’t leave it behind in the water. It’s so nice to get to speak to Kito, who’s such a friendly guy. I know him from the medical training we had together, along with some other skippers. Kito, I’m sorry you are at the Race HQ and not sailing with us. I took 140 days of food with me and obviously I won’t use it all, I’ll have extra food to sell when I’m back in les Sables! I’m not a real yacht racing professional, I had never sailed on a 60-foot boat before qualifying for the Vendée Globe, so still being in the race with a decent race time is absolutely amazing to me. I don’t have the same background as most other skippers. Being able to sail and perform like this comes as a surprise to me.
I was honoured when I heard that Michel Desjoyeaux, Yann Eliès or Thomas Coville spoke about me and my race, some even wrote nice messages to me. My project was definitely a different one, and our boat had the least potential in the fleet. But we received the help of hundreds of people, and some other amazing people got involved, I want to thank them all, as well as my partners. People carried the mast with their own hands and arms, they came to help us remove the old Akena stickers on the sail, they helped us work on the hull… It’s amazing, they deserve my best effort now. Last time I rounded the Horn, I didn’t actually see it so this time, it meant a lot to me to actually sail very close to it and see the little rocks around it, as well as the big rock itself of course.
Vendee Globe website
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by Matthew Pryor - 4:59 PM Sun 20 Jan 2013 GMT
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2012 Vendee Globe
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