Vendée Globe day 14, morning brief: Alex Thomson holding on to his lead
Monday, November 21, 2016 9:09 AM
After losing ground yesterday, Alex Thomson is now doing better than just putting up some resistance. The skipper of Hugo Boss has managed to maintain his lead of 85 miles over his two nearest rivals, Armel Le Cléac'h and Sébastien Josse. They are expected to pass the Cape of Good Hope in four days, shattering the reference time for the voyage down the North and South Atlantic.
In the middle of the South Atlantic, the seven leaders are still clocking up high speeds in ideal conditions, which resemble the sort of weather required for round the world records. A week ago, there was the possibility of boats making their getaway from the pack and huge gaps developing and that is exactly what is happening with groups in very different weather systems from each other. And it is the frontrunners, who continue to benefit from this situation.
It is something of a surprise to see this morning that Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) is maintaining his lead in spite of damage to his foil. It is true he is at a wider angle than the chasing boats, but although sailing on the port tack, where he is in theory handicapped, as the foil is broken creating extra drag instead of lift, the British sailor has managed to stem the losses that we saw this weekend, when the nearest rivals regained around fifty miles from him. Alex has clearly not accepted this as a done deal and is fighting to keep his leadership. He has stabilised the situation and asserted that it is far from over.
We can see too that Armel Le Cléac'h luffed during the night coming around further to the left. It looks like he is trying to cover PRB and Safran and get towards the route taken by Sébastien Josse. All seven out in front are clocking up speeds that are spectacular for monohulls, averaging around twenty knots. Speeds are in fact slightly higher for Morgan Lagravière, Paul Meilhat and Jérémie Beyou (21 to 23 knots). It is the latter who covered the greatest distance over the last 24 hours: 499 miles. The seas are getting heavier for them now, but conditions remain favourable and that is set to continue until they get to the tip of South Africa. They are currently sailing in a powerful 25-knot northerly flow, generated by the compression between an area of low pressure to their south and the high to their north. In around four days from now they will be at the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope, where the reference time is likely to be shattered.
Furrther back in the fleet, it is time to grin and bear it. Sailing in between the leaders and the pack, Yann Eliès – 8th 700 miles back from the leader – is no longer in the same weather system. He is managing to keep up average speeds above sixteen knots and might avoid the worst by finding his way through, albeit further north than the leaders. But he is likely to be two days behind them, when he enters the Indian Ocean. The toll is going to be even higher for boats back behind ninth placed Jean Le Cam. At the latitude of Brazil, they have only half as much wind as the frontrunners and are only just making ten knots… or in other words half of the speed achieved by the leaders. However, we are seeing some interesting battles between these boats, as we enter the third week of racing with the leaders shortly to enter the Southern Ocean. The pack and the third group will struggle to take advantage of any low pressure areas developing to make their way eastwards across the South Atlantic. There are several areas of light winds to contend with, as Fabrice Amedeo told us this morning.
Sébastien Josse / Edmond de Rothschild (Edmond de Rothschild): "We have a 25 knot northerly. The seas are getting rough, but they're not that big yet. These are perfect conditions allowing us to continue on our straight track and for our boats, these conditions offer us high speeds. I haven't looked at the timing, but the Cape of Good Hope should be coming up in three or four days. The goal is to keep up high averages of around twenty knots like the others around me. I broke two stanchions in the Bay of Biscay, but haven't had any other damage. Conditions have been good, so there haven't been any problems for the boat. Alex (Thomson) is resisting well keeping up high speeds at these angles. He has plenty of wind. We need to take care of the appendages like we take care of the boat. If we're doing twenty knots, we're happy, so why push it? We have seen that the boat can reach peak speeds of 25 knots, but now is not the time for that. The weather means that 20 knots is what is right and in any case, we'll slow down as we pass the Cape of Good Hope. There will be a transition zone for one day before we pick up another low, which will propel us along.”
Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest MATMUT): "I'm sailing in trade winds that are easing off with eight knots at the moment at 160°. I have decided to move eastwards. It's something I had been thinking about for several days. It looks very tough for the next couple of days, as we need to get across a front which is stationary and then the area of high pressure in order to get on the fast track to the Southern Ocean. A small group has formed with Louis Burton a hundred miles or so ahead, along with "Cali" (Arnaud) Boissières, Stéphane Le Diraison, Conrad Colman, me, Kojiro and Nandor Fa. I'm trying to match Stéphane Le Diraison and Arnaud Boissières in speed and have been watching the rankings to see how they are doing. I didn't want to head off east too soon. It's nice being in a race within the race and that has affected my choices. The others are so far ahead or in totally different conditions that it is not even worth looking at them."