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Vendee Globe Race – Gabart, Le Cléac’h neck-to-neck into sixth gate

by Vendee Globe on 22 Dec 2012
Francois Gabart of Macif is facing pressure from But Armel Le Cléac’h of Banque Populaire heading into the race’s sixth gate Alexis Courcoux / Macif
The Vendee Globe Race 2012-2013 has suddenly become a heated two-man race between leaders MACIF’s skipper Francois Gabart and Banque Populaire’s Armel Le Cléac’h as the two seasoned sailors are currently in a tight battle heading into the sixth ice gate of the round-the-world race.

Francois Gabart (MACIF) took the lead of the race back at the 1900hrs UTC ranking on Thursday and unusually, for the last 48 hours, held onto it overnight (their day in the southern hemisphere).

But Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) was still just seven miles north of him and only 2.7 miles behind on the racetrack at the 0400hrs (UTC) ranking as they head to the sixth ice gate of the race – the New Zealand gate – 120 miles due east.

With 20 knots of wind from the northwest shifting back to the west, the inseparable duo gybed this morning around 0200hrs.

Almost a thousand miles west of them, the margins were even finer as Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat) overtook Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) overnight, to claim fourth place and lead by 1.1 miles at the 0400hrs (UTC) ranking. After his two tactical gybes to stay north last night, they are now on parallel tracks 60 miles apart and 500 miles from the Auckland Islands.

Third-placed Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) continued to lose miles overnight as he curved north and is now more than 600 behind. But that move has paid off and he is now in a steady flow of 20 knots from the northwest that should build to 30 knots.

Back in sixth place, approaching the East Australia gate, Ace navigator Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel), may have seen something those chasing him have not as he dives south. The group of four from sixth to ninth have 20-knot westerlies and are heading to the East Australia gate and Le Cam’s move had Mike Golding (Gamesa) scratching his head.

'To be honest I can’t really see what Jean is seeing,' Golding wrote this morning. 'At 150 or 160 miles ahead he might be seeing something I am not but I have run his routing now and we more or less converge under Tasmania. Yes there is still this low coming down from Tasmania but trying to go and find a low can be problematic. And this low has a trough down the side of it again.

'Once again the conditions are tricky and variable. In the last hour I have had as much as 28kts of wind and as little as 12kts and the wind is right behind me. It could go either way.

'Meantime I am struggling a bit for the right sailplan. I have had the masthead gennaker on and so was a bit disappointed to see how we had done on the 0400hrs poll, because in these waves you feel like you want something to press against.

'The pilot let go at one point and I ended up on my side. It is not so much a problem with the pilot, I just think it gets overloaded so I have switched it on to the hydraulic ram and it should cope fine. The steering is quite heavy, I think it is just these waves, I don’t think the pilot is just being a wimp.'

Behind that compact group there are also steady westerlies of around 20 knots for all except Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique), who is deep in anticyclone, 420 miles from the Amsterdam gate and 4,466.8 miles behind the leader.

Vendee Globe website

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