In the Vendee Globe, after 28 days of relentlessly intense racing since leaving Les Sables d’Olonne on Saturday 10th November, the leading pack remains tightly compacted. More than 8,000 miles or over one third of the theoretical course of 24,032 miles has been completed. In fact, real distances sailed by the leaders are already well over 9,000 miles but there is still hardly anything separating the top four boats.
Back on top this Saturday afternoon is Armel Le Cléac’h. The Banque Populaire skipper has not only jumped back to the head of the leader board but looks set to extend significantly, most notably on the three skippers now giving chase.
Le Cléac’h is well into getaway mode, sailing directly east in a perfectly useful 15kts of NW’ly breeze, making some 15-16kts of boat speed. Adding to the advantage his own particular strategy has now given him, the high pressure zone which encircled the Crozet gate appears to have moved slightly south, further slowing down his pursuers.
'The anticyclone is a pain, the wind was 10 knots and now it’s even less, it’s difficult.' Complained Jean-Pierre Dick on Vendée Globe LIVE early this afternoon, noting: ' Compared to four years ago, we’ve been closer to each other for a longer time. In 2008 there were bigger gaps between us in the Indian Ocean. This year, after a week in the Indian Ocean, we are still groups. It feels like the Atlantic.'
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The relative fortunes of the two remaining British skippers in the race are also on the rise. Alex Thomson reflected today on the ongoing intensity and the resulting enjoyment of simply being consistently ‘in the match’, challenging in the lead group for most of the race so far.
The Hugo Boss skipper has already gained significant kudos from French race fans for his performance to date, not least yesterday from France’s current Solitaire du Figaro champion Yann Eliès. Though he was up to within 55 miles of this morning’s leader François Gabart, Thomson is back investing to get south quicker, to break into the stronger breeze and so losing a few miles relative the group ahead who are pointed more to the east.
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It is pretty good it won't be long before I gybe though, probably tonight some time, and then it should start to pick up. These guys are headed more east than I am at the moment, so they are extending all the time. I will probably gybe first, then we will back into it again. I am happy with my position, catching on the back of this group, but there is a long way to go,' said Thomson, 'It’s a nice anniversary, a month at sea, I feel good, physically and mentally. I feel great really, I am really enjoying everything so far, trying to keep up with the work. Everything makes a big difference when you are performing, and doing well. I feel great. I am looking forwards to the next month.'
In sixth Mike Golding and his two ‘partners in crime’, Jean Le Cam and Dominique Wavre are now into a very beneficial weather system which, Golding, believes will keep on giving. Initially following on the edge of the high pressure, the trio now have a low pressure trough which is moving east with them. The Gamesa skipper believes not only will it develop to give them a ride on stronger winds, but will allow them a slightly better trajectory than the leading boats for the next few days. In recent days Golding’s deficit has all but halved, now at 399 miles this afternoon.
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He may be short on open ocean experience on an IMOCA Open 60 but having crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans on beach catamarans, as well has his remarkable 268 day circumnavigation of the globe on a 6.5m Mini, the first big southern oceans depression will probably not hold too much store for Alessandro di Benedetto. The Team Plastique skipper was anticipating squalls of over 55kts as a system goes through, but he was well positioned on the system to enjoy some fast downwind sailing.
François Gabart, FRA (MACIF) : We are trying to get to stronger winds in the south because the wind we have right now isn’t what we expected. There is wind, but it keeps changing, it’s very unstable. I can see Banque Populaire and Virbac-Paprec 3 sailing faster than me. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the next few hours.
Armel Le Cléac’h, FRA (Banque Populaire): I’m feeling better today, we finally got wind but we had to go more south than planned. It’s very pleasant to slide along at at 15-16 knots. When we’re all lined up for the next gate, we’ll see what the positions really are and we’ll be able to tell who did good and who didn’t. It’s going to be very positive.
I did check my opponents’ routing, it’s always part of the game. But the wind is changing so much it’s hard to say before the next five or six hours.
The weather is really quite nice. The gates add a new element to the game and of course safety is important, especially when you are sailing solo. But it’s not always easy to deal with them in terms of strategy, you have to think a few days in advance. I sailed at the very west of the gates, the others have chosen the eastern option.
Mike Golding, GBR (Gamesa): Basically we are on the back of the high pressure, and behind a front is building up with pressure on it. We are just riding, almost at the same speed as the front, which means that we should carry it all the way to the gate and beyond it as well and that front steadily gets more aggressive and moves east, so we should have a building breeze, 100-110 wind angle, for some considerable way and even when that passes, the other boats will be further south and we'll be more downwind, this is what I hope anyway, so the route won't be quite so straight forward for them.'
Jean-Pierre Dick, FRA (Virbac-Paprec 3): The anticyclone is a pain, the wind was 10 knots and now it’s even less, it’s difficult. Compared to four years ago, we’ve been closer to each other for a longer time. In 2008 there were bigger gaps between us in the Indian Ocean. This year, after a week in the Indian Ocean, we are still groups. It feels like the Atlantic.
I like the south, I love it when there’s lots of good wind, so of course I feel OK in the south. That’s when you can get the most out of the boat, and it’s a wild territory, it feels great to be here. Yet, after a month, you’re glad to leave it behind and go north again.
It’s pretty frustrating right now, precisely because that strong wind isn’t there.
The boat hasn’t changed much from double-handed mode to single-handed mode. It’s mostly about the roof and the protection.
Alex Thomson, GBR (Hugo Boss): I feel fortunate to have got in and got out (to the Crozet gate) with a little bit of breeze, I have around 10kts of wind at the moment, and am trying to go south to get away from the worst of the high patch. It is pretty good though, it wont be long before I gybe though, probably tonight some time, and then it should start to pick up. These guys are headed more east than I am at the moment, so they are extending all the time. I will probably gybe first, then we will back into it again. I am happy with my position, catching on the back of this group, but there is a long way to go.
It’s a nice anniversary, a month at sea, I feel good, physically and mentally. I feel great really, I am really enjoying everything so far, trying to keep up with the work, everything makes a big difference when you are performing, and doing well. I feel great. I am looking forwards to the next month. Hopefully there might be a little more downtime in the next two months, but so far I have my iPad with a couple of books and some games, but so far I have not had the time. For me making a telephone call to somebody and having a chat about something different when you are in something as intense as this all the time, it is important to allow your brain to do something else.
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Vendee Globe website
by Vendee Globe - 6:42 PM Sat 8 Dec 2012 GMT
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2012 Vendee Globe
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