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Vendée Globe Day 3: Small Decisions, Big Consequences?

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Alex Thompson's IMOCA, Hugo Boss, Vendée Globe
Alex Thompson's IMOCA, Hugo Boss, Vendée Globe

As the trio leading the Vendée Globe passed the latitude of Lisbon, Portugal heading south-west and looking to escape from the clutches of a zone of lighter winds, British skipper Alex Thomson holds a slender lead. After a relatively quick passage across the Bay of Biscay Sunday night and Monday then dealing with the stress of the confluence of shipping traffic at Cape Finisterre, the lighter airs down the Portuguese coast have allowed the top skippers to try and catch a few naps and find a more optimum routine.


The leadership of the race has swapped between five different skippers since Sunday's start. Midday Thomson realised the gain from his choice to work east, closer to the coast. That gain increased slightly in the day, but he admitted that his choice – executed partly in light of pre-start strategy - may not be as beneficial in the long term. “I am not too sure about my positioning now,” Thomson told Vendée Globe Live at midday (UTC). “Initially I thought it was a good idea and part of the strategy at the beginning, I am not too sure it is going to pay off that well in the next day or so.”


Armel Le Cléac'h, runner up in the last two Vendée Globes, has – typically for him - sailed a more conservative line on Banque Populaire VIII, sticking closer to the direct route, looking further ahead. “The strategy has changed somewhat since the start,” Le Cléac'h said.” The high is blocking us and the choice down the Portuguese coast isn't as interesting as we initially thought. We're keeping out to the west to pick up the next lot of wind. When you're dealing with strategy it's for the long term, in particular how to deal with Madeira and the Canaries. We need to choose our position in the coming hours.”

The top trio have earned themselves a small cushion – around 12 nautical miles – on fourth placed Vincent Riou on PRB. That may grow as they sail free of the high pressure ridge which has enveloped the fleet with lighter airs. Sparring partners are pairing off, albeit temporarily perhaps. Riou on the non foiling PRB is tussling at identical speeds with the foiler Edmond de Rothschild of Sébastien Josse two miles apart. So too, long time Figaro adversaries, Yann Elies and Jéremie Beyou, were scrapping over early bragging rights. The pair – both three times winners of La Solitaire du Figaro – were close to colliding last night but are at the same latitude – separated 20 miles laterally.

In Les Sables d'Olonne, Didac Costa was close to being ready to restart with his One Planet One Ocean but the Barcelona skipper, who had to return to the start town within one hour of the start when his boat partly flooded due to a ballast pipe leak, must wait for a weather window to open. His water damaged alternator was being replaced this afternoon and all of his damaged electrics have been repaired and checked. The Bay of Biscay is due to take a battering from 40kts winds and so the Catalan soloist will wait for a prudent moment to leave and give chase.

American skipper Rich Wilson said that he did not feel too disconnected from today's US elections, despite being at sea in his second Vendée Globe. He was lying 23rd in the fleet, 120 miles SW of Cape Finisterre, chasing Hungary's Nandor Fa who was nine miles ahead of him. A noted Democrat,
Wilson said: “I am for her. I hope things go well today. I will sail better for sure. We are certainly not connected to it by normal means and I feel quite strongly, I have followed it intensely over the last 18 months as the American elections always seem so long. I was involved back in 1988 in the Dukakis campaign, a long time ago, but I have followed it very closely ever since. And we all should. It is how our society represents itself to each other. So I feel quite connected to it even though I am our here.”
 
Quotes
Alex Thomson (GBR) Hugo Boss: 
“There is a long way to go. But it is a good start for me. It was a very fickle night for me but once the breeze kicked in then I think we showed the boat speed, the boat speed we built it for and thought it would have in those conditions, at least. I am not too sure about my positioning now. Initially I thought it was a good idea and part of the strategy at the beginning, I am not too sure it is going to pay off that well in the next day or so. I am not too worried. I will still be in the hunt.”
“Although I look forward to the start I have to say I hate the first few days, there is very little sleep to be had. It is very hard to manage these boats when you are not sleep deprived, so I find the first few days hard. I am working hard now trying to get some sleep in the bank, to get myself into good condition and try and get into a routine. It is going to take five, six or seven days to get a routine. That is what I am looking for now.”
“We are all trying to get past this ridge of high pressure and once we get through it we will be hightailing it to the equator. I have given up some westing which I am not sure was a great idea. Hopefully I can keep some south and make up some westing later on. I am not 100% positive that I made the right decision to gybe over. The boat is good. There are no problems, yet. Nothing yet but I am sure it will come (laughs).”

Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire VIII): 
“Conditions have improved after 24 hours of lively weather. During the first night with the variable winds, we got a squall with 35 knot gusts. The boat sped away on her foils. I looked at the dials and it read 32 knots. It didn't last long though. But we must have averaged 28 knots over that 10 minute period. We had hoped to get around the area of high pressure, but it didn't work like that. The high moved faster than us. Whatever happens, it's better to be in front rather than behind. The strategy has changed somewhat since the start. The high is blocking us and the voyage down the Portuguese coast isn't as interesting as we initially thought. We're keeping out to the west to pick up the next lot of wind. When you're dealing with strategy it's for the long term, in particular how to deal with Madeira and the Canaries. We need to choose our position in the coming hours.”

THE 0300hrs UTC RANKINGS
1 - HUGO BOSS (ALEX THOMSON) - 23774nm distance to finish
2 - BANQUE POPULIARE VIII (ARMEL LE CLEAC'H) - 7,11nm distance to leader
3 - SIMICHEL-VIRBAC (JEAN-PIERRE DICK) - 7,21nm distance to leader