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Vendée Globe, Day 4: The Best Place to Be Today?

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Armel Le Cleach solo sailor onboard IMOCA 60' Banque Populaire
Armel Le Cleach solo sailor onboard IMOCA 60' Banque Populaire

Perhaps it will be a question asked for years to come. ‘Where were you when you heard the 2016 US Election result?' Twenty eight solo ocean racers might reply with their specific memories of being all at sea, between the Portuguese coast and Madeira, competing in the early stages of the Vendée Globe solo ocean race around the world. But only one, Armel Le Cléac'h will be able to say he was leading.


Approaching Madeira, which the leaders should pass in the small hours of Thursday, the middle ground, direct course continued to work for the pacemaker. But the Banque Populaire solo skipper has seen his lead shrink slightly as he tries to hold his distance ahead of a chasing pack which are pushing each other hard in the light to moderate breezes. For Le Cléac'h it is key to get south of Madeira with a margin intact, knowing that first into the NE Trade winds will accelerate away. The Azores high pressure, and the fickle, unsettled winds it produces has proven hard to escape. The leading group of eight are within 30 miles of each other, the lateral spread at 120 miles between Le Cléac'h and British skipper Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) in eighth.

The pace to Madeira remains slightly quicker than that of the 2012-13 race when François Gabart was at approximately the same point in some four days, compared to the three days of Le Cléac'h who was Gabart's principal rival all the way round the globe in that race. Once into the trade winds the average speeds should be higher – 450 mile days commonplace for the foilers – and so the Equator should certainly take less than ten days. If the weather models prove true that should mean one new record on this race from the outset.

Placings behind Banque Populaire VIII have changed through this historic Wednesday. In the lighter airs – 8-12kts – it seems local choices, finding lanes of extra breeze has been more important than boat speed. Gains and losses have been irrespective of whether the IMOCA has hydrofoil daggerboards or not. Sébastien Josse's investment to the west has paid slightly and his Edmond de Rothschild was up to second place. Paul Meilhat on SMA improved overnight from seventh to second, then third. A gybe to the east dropped Jean-Pierre Dick to fourth. Thomson has held eighth through the day but has been as quick as the leaders, gained a little westing back and with it six miles on Le Cléac'h.
Reactions to the Trump victory
American Rich Wilson was in demand for comment about the US Election. The race veteran, a former Democrat speech writer who spent a spell working with the US Defense Department was typically stoic, his proud patriotism undimmed. But he admitted he did not quite know what to think. “The country will be resilient. I think that it is still a great country. We are on a boat called Great American and we will persevere as a country, just as we do here are sea. When I get back I will deal with a new president,” he concluded.
Conrad Colman, who has dual US/NZ citizenship and sent his vote, like Wilson, before the race start, is a Political Sciences graduate of the University of Colorado. He was prouder of his Kiwi roots today, he said. On his first Vendée Globe Colman said on this race's first Video Conference: “It is a bit of a shocker. I thought my uncle was playing a joke on me when the news came through. It was such a big surprise. It makes me happy to be out here. The government is elected for the people by the people, and it makes me a little bit concerned about what people were thinking when they went to the ballot box. But one has to respect the democratic process.”
Colman, 17th, conceded a place to his nearest rival Louis Burton, as the solo skipper of Foresight Natural Energy, sought to make more south, a more direct route out of the high. “I am loving it out here. I really am. It is great being at sea, getting to know the boat after three weeks not sailing together. It took a little while to get into the groove. But I think it is going really well. I am happy. All of the top teams have spent time testing against each other. They know how fast they go. They all know each other and are playing chess with each other. The smaller teams have not really faced off against each other. So it's good to be able to learn against Louis who has a slightly newer boat, a little bit faster, and so to be able to hang on to him is great. The boat is going well. At the moment we have 14kts of wind, sailing with the J1 which is not a typical J1. It is a more rounded, reaching sail. So as you will see on the tracker I have split from Louis and am heading more to the south to get a better passage through the ridge. I am hoping that will work out for me.”
A new bigger alternator for Didac Costa
The One Planet One Ocean team have fitted a new, bigger alternator to the engine. The engine itself has been stripped and rebuilt by the engineer recommended by the Les Sables d'Olonne fire service personnel, who have shown huge solidarity with their Catalan counterpart. Costa is expected to leave Thursday or Friday morning. He said, “It would have been impossible to achieve this without the help and solidarity of other teams and especially without the help of the fire department of Les Sables d'Olonne that has turned to help us."

1.5 million visitors: the Vendée Globe Village has smashed all the records for visitor numbers

 1.5 million visitors in the Vendée Globe Village, or more than 300,000 visitors in the first week, 380,000 in the second week and 450,000 in week three, with 350,000 on the day of the start. The official Vendée Globe Village in Port-Olona has smashed all previous records. Yves Auvinet, President of the Vendée Globe and the Vendée Council announced these figures today illustrating once again the huge success of this eighth edition in terms of media and visitor numbers for the start (almost 1500 journalists were present). Yves
Auvinet declared, “Almost 1.5 million visitors came to the Village in Les Sables d'Olonne during the three weeks before the big day and the day itself. That is a new record for visitor numbers, confirming the position of the Vendée Globe as a leading popular event for visitors and the media. These excellent figures are of course linked to the presence of the 29 magnificent monohulls and the fact that their skippers made themselves available, but it is also because of the many events and exhibitions on show in the Village. The summer weather which prevailed in Vendée during these three weeks also played its part. These numbers are a good omen for the future of the event and we can look forward to a huge welcome when the sailors finish.”

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