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Vendée Globe: Cape of Good Hope record tumbles as Safran retires

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Morgan Lagravière - IMOCA Safran
Morgan Lagravière - IMOCA Safran

Thomson's achievement comes as French sailor Morgan Lagravière became the third skipper to pull out of the Vendee Globe due to damage to his yacht Safran. The British skipper's time obliterates the current race record for the passage of 22 days and 23 hours set by Armel Le Cléac'h in 2012, which in turn broke Vincent Riou's 2004 time of 24 days and two hours. While the Cape of Good Hope is used as the reference point for the passage in the Vendee Globe, it is not actually the most southerly point in South Africa. That title goes to Cape Agulhas, around 90 miles to the south east.

The incredible run south is in part thanks to the perfect combination of weather conditions since the November 6 start and also the extra speed generated by the foils fitted to the latest generation IMOCA 60 boats. However the loss of Thomson's starboard foil six days ago in a collision with a submerged object has not stopped the sole Brit in the race continuing at record pace. At the 1400 UTC rankings Thomson still had a small lead over second-placed Le Cléac'h but the French skipper, the runner-up in the past two editions of the race, had narrowed the gap from 100 nm to under 90. Le Cléac'h crossed the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope at 1532 UTC after 18 days three hours 30 minutes, four hours and 32 minutes behind Thomson.

Once into the Indian Ocean the frontrunners are set to encounter a short period of lighter winds before jumping onto another depression, this time moving east through the Southern Ocean. Third-placed Seb Josse, some 230nm behind, said there was already a marked change in the weather from the relative warmth of the South Atlantic. “There are birds circling us, there is a bit of fog,” the Edmond de Rothschild skipper said. “We can see that there is warm air and cold water, which makes everything look rather austere. Usually there is the current that leads to cross seas. We're not yet into the Agulhas current, but conditions mean it should be calmer than usual. There's not a lot of strategy involved for now and the routes are classic. Things will change again in two or three weeks.

Rookie Lagravière was left with no choice but to abandon the race when Safran hit an object while travelling at high speeds in winds of around 20 to 25 knots. Lagravière had been in fourth place but the damage to one of his two rudders was so substantial he could not continue. He was tonight making for Cape Town, South Africa, the nearest port. “I had a tough night with autopilot worries,” he explained. “I had between 20 to 25 knots of wind and the boat was impossible to control. I broached four or five times. While taking a nap towards midday, I felt the boat going over. When I went outside, I could see that the leeward rudder had come out of its attachment and that two-thirds of it was missing. I think it was the result of hitting an unidentified floating object. Unfortunately, I don't have what is required to be able to repair such damage, and so it is over for me. I would like to remember the positive things in this adventure: 18 days of extraordinary racing aboard a boat that performs exceptionally well, with which I was always up with the frontrunners. This solo race was also an opportunity for me to find out more about myself and what really matters in life.


Meanwhile American sailor Rich Wilson, who is now up to 18th, was making the best of Thanksgiving at sea by focusing his attention on trying to overtake a group of boats 50nm to the south east of his Great American IV. “I'm trying to make some progress here on a group of boats to the south, and I'll call home to a couple of close family friends, and that'll be about it. I think I still have a freeze-dried turkey tetrazzini ready to go.”
 
The fleet is now exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere after Didac Costa's One Planet One Ocean crossed the Equator just after midnight. The 26th-placed Spanish skipper's celebrations had to be postponed though to deal with his J1 genoa ripped a few minutes before the Equator in winds of around 14 knots. “A few minutes before crossing the Equator, when I already had a beer ready for the occasion, the J1 exploded,” he said. “There was a horizontal slit from the leech to the luff, about a third of the way down from the top. With some difficulty I managed to furl it and lower it without causing any more damage. I knew it was difficult for this sail to complete the race but I did not expect to lose it so soon. Now, I miss it when the wind drops; we lack power. What I do have plenty of now is cloth to patch the other sails.”