In the Vendee Globe, Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) threw caution to the wind on Friday and forecast a relatively simple passage through the doldrums on his westerly course.
'I don’t really see it being too much of a problem,' a relaxed Thomson told Vendee Globe TV. 'When you look at the satellite images there’s quite a lot of cloud, but the cloud is quite a long way north and for if I can get another 85 miles, another 8-10 hours, then I’m fully out. I’ve got the wind now in ENE so I’m not expecting it to be too much of a stop. Francois had probably the toughest time so far out of everybody, hopefully for myself and probably for Jean-Pierre (Dick), who’s probably nearly out, it’s not going to be too arduous.'
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It seemed to be working out like that on Friday afternoon as Thomson averaged 9.3 knots through the doldrums in the four hours since the last ranking. He has tacked, and though there could be surprises, he should be into a stronger northeasterly wind this evening. Third-placed Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) is already getting there, 210 miles ahead and to the northeast, but only averaging 10.2 knots. But if Dick enjoyed a good doldrums, Thomson’s may well be seamless. He has taken 61 miles back from Dick in the last 24 hours.
Thomson said he was his realistic targets were third place and finishing in under 80 days, which would mean covering the 3163.6 miles to go to Les Sables d’Olonne before January 29.
'You’ve got to stay motivated and if my goal was to win, frankly right now I’d probably be a bit demotivated because it would be a bit out of my grasp,' he said. 'My goals at the moment are to try and finish third and to try and break 80 days. If I don’t beat 88 days (Mike Golding’s British record) then I’ve had a serious problem.'
Like many, the reliability of the new generation French boats – which occupy the top three positions - has surprised him. Before the start he predicted they would not make it around the world.
'It’s surprised everybody probably, actually the attrition in the race so far has been amazingly good considering last time,' He said. 'If you take away the three horrible accidents, two fishing boats and poor old Vincent (Riou) hitting the unidentified object and having to pull out, there really haven’t been many boats dropping out from technical issues. We all expected it and I think the reason it hasn’t happened is because of the preparation of the boats and that talks about the professionalism of the teams and it’s a real credit to the shore teams.'
At the front, 672 miles ahead of Thomson, the leader Francois Gabart (Macif) has not begun drawing away from Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) yet, as the forecast suggested. Gabart averaged 12.7 knots in the last four hours and Le Cléac’h 12.3.
As one of the five skippers in the middle of the fleet apparently cursed by the weather gods, sixth-placed Mike Golding (Gamesa) was chewing over his need to finish what he reaffirmed (not for the first time) would be his last Vendée Globe. With food and fuel beginning to run low he reflected on what is driving him on.
'If I were starting on a passage home from Rio de Janeiro today, and what I have in terms of food, spares and fuel was presented to me on the dock, I would laugh – because it's just not sufficient,' Golding wrote. 'But out here, 400 miles east into the Atlantic, heading north with the majority of my fourth Vendée Globe behind me, I have no option but to make ends meet.
'Running out of cereal is one thing, but since our hydrogenerator control box nearly burst into flames as we entered the Southern Ocean going South, fuel has been the primary concern. We chose not to make a huge hogwash about it, others seemed so much worse off then we did at the time, and we still do have fuel which we think will be sufficient. But like the cereal - and pretty much everything else now – it's going to be a close run thing.
'No power equals no auto pilot, lights, navigation systems, AIS, active echo, keel etc…. In Biscay - in Feb, really?! That is too much and not very safe or seaman like. But in common with every other Vendée competitor, it is my inbuilt need to complete (a form of madness?), we simply must close this circle and finish so we can once again enjoy the feeling and emotion of that 20 minute passage through the canal into Les Sables d'Olonne.
'Perhaps this time the paranoia is even further heightened by the knowledge that this is my last expression of such madness…. and I bloody well mean it this time!'
Golding had closed the gap on Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) slightly to 16 miles, but the latest wind shift seems to have favoured the west, with 20-22 knots northerlies. After the week they have had though, no one will be celebrating too soon.
Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives cœur), in eleventh, is having the best time, reaching north, in 20-22 knot westerlies. He has been the fastest over the last four hours with 17 knots and has the best 24-hour average in the fleet, averaging 14.4 knots and covering 345.5 miles.
Javier Sanso (ESP, ACCIONA 100% EcoPowered): He (Neptune) gets a bit of olive oil but that’s really about all I do nowadays. Right from the beginning for me there wasn’t going to be any celebratory points until the end, in my mind there’s a long hard slog and it’s over when it’s over. There’s a couple of bottles of Champagne, I know there’s a little bottle of gin, maybe I’ll sneak that in at some point (laughs). But I’ve just got to get on with it stay focused and not get complacent.
Alex Thomson (GBR, Hugo Boss): Whilst yesterday this route looked like the best and that I had chosen a good option according to the last reports, it is not looking so good any more. And what’s more, the situation with the low-pressure system that will soon form to the northwest is going to favour those who have chosen a more inside route. It is difficult to change things at this stage but we will have to watch carefully how it evolves. In the next few days the whole meteorological situation in this area is going to be a real chaos right up until Salvador de Bahía. It will take us four or five days more than usual to get to the equator if it continues like this.
François Gabart (FRA, Macif): I’m quite fine, especially regarding the weather forecast. The weather models are now saying the same thing, so it’s great. I hope I won’t have any bad news. Both on my way down and my way up, my passages through the doldrums weren’t easy. During the last days I lost some miles, I wasn’t happy. I need to remain focus. Both the man and the boat are fine. I managed to check out the boat with the smoother conditions. I could rest a bit. Now let go to Les Sables d’Olonne. I’m very concentrated at the moment, so sometime it’s complicated to speak with the outside world. I know the race will be hard until the end, the journey remains complicated. Armel is not far away. I’ve done a nice race so far, I’m happy with that and nobody could take that from me. Now, if I win it will be the cherry on the cake.
Macif - Vendee Globe 2012-13 - © François Gabart / MACIF
Mike Golding (GBR, Gamesa): This morning, in an experiment, I enjoyed scrambled eggs on toast which was both good, and a nice break from my normal cereals. In truth this was not an exploration brought on by my culinary curiosity, but the beginnings of a worrying period in a long race like this, when it seems like everything on board is worn out, or running out. I have only maybe six servings of cereal remaining, not a crisis, but I will need to be creative with what remains, if I am to have any comfort over the final weeks. We pack the boat with food, fuel and spares for, say, a 90 day race, which is normal. In such a competitive fleet we all push the limits and try to minimise our load weight. However when times are tough we think little of double-portioning a meal, or burning the heater, or running the engine to maintain a better cabin temperature. But now, as we approach the final stages of the race any such previous excesses (and there have been very few) all come back to haunt you – and the paranoia that you won’t/can’t make the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne starts to ring strongly in your thoughts.
Alessandro Di Benedetto (ITA, Team Plastique): Cape Horn in sight. Today (Thursday), this is a great day even if it's cloudy. This race is fantastic, it means a lot to me and to all employees who follow my journey everyday and see the project going on. It is also the beginning of the way back to home, sailing up the Atlantic, the end great South and the winds will change. I feel a lot of emotions; here it is a boat cemetery. Last night (note: from Wednesday to Thursday), I couldn’t sleep while I was approach some icebergs and furthermore because of the Cape Horn crossing which remains a legendary moment for each sailor.
Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA, Virbac-Paprec 3): Last night was hard. My way in the doldrums was very complicated, I did many manoeuvres. I’m tired because I spent most of my night outside. My mast climbing was also very intense. Normally the next hours should be better and I hope I’ll be able to rest. I manage to check out the mast, everything is in order. I hope... Now I’ll be able to use all my sails. There were great moments before the doldrums. I especially liked the South Atlantic. But the next 15 days will be hard. I’ll have to find the energy and remain focus on my sailing. As for the win, it seems complicated.
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Vendee Globe website
by Vendee Globe - 7:15 PM Fri 18 Jan 2013 GMT
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2012 Vendee Globe
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