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Vendée Globe day 24: Oceans apart but same test for Vendée Globe fleet

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Vendée Globe
Vendée Globe

They might be in different oceans split by 3,500 nautical miles but today both the Vendée Globe leaders and the pack at the back of the fleet were gearing up for big breeze. Frontrunners Armel Le Cléac'h and Alex Thomson, just 20 miles adrift as they rocket towards the Kerguelen Islands, could be hit with gales in a few days' time after transitioning through a tricky high pressure zone.

Around 10 days behind the leading pair the large group of 15 boats bringing up the rear were also anticipating strong winds of up to 35 knots as they're scooped up by a large easterly-moving depression.

Title favourite Le Cléac'h, who has now led for two days, said he needed to be ready for heavy weather to strike his boat Banque Populaire VIII at any moment. “After the Kerguelen Islands there will be a tricky transition zone to deal with, but we're particularly watching the gales forecast for late this week,” the French skipper said. “Things look very rough at the Australia waypoints and the ice zone with gales forecast. It's a few days ahead, but we're keeping an eye on that to see the strength of the wind and the sea state we can expect. There are lows coming down from Madagascar, which deepen fairly quickly.”
 
Le Cléac'h and Thomson should pass north of the Kerguelens, a remote archipelago of islands in the southern Indian Ocean, tomorrow morning if their speedos remain at today's 20 knots. “Once we get past the Kerguelens and out towards Australia I'd say we could see some quite big winds,” added Hugo Boss skipper Thomson, the only Brit in the race. “Hopefully I can just stay on Armel's heels and by Thursday I should be on starboard, which means I've got a foil in the water and I can sail the boat to its full potential.”
 
For the large group of 10 boats still in the Atlantic battling to get south speeds were starting to rise as they began to pick up the beginnings of a depression that will finally fire them towards the Cape of Good Hope. Within the pack, split by just 200nm, only leader Louis Burton on Bureau Vallée appeared to be struggling this afternoon – at the 1400 UTC report he was making just 2.1 knots compared with the 12 to 15 knots of the boats around him. Having spent almost two weeks floundering in light airs the group are now facing a forecast of 35-knot winds in the next 12 to 24 hours as the depression takes hold.
 
Five hundred miles west, the trio of Alan Roura, Enda O'Coineen and Pieter Heerema were capitalising on picking up the stronger breeze first. “We are in the process of entering into the Southern Ocean,” said Swiss sailor Roura, at 23 years old the youngest in the fleet. “I have 23 knots of wind, and it should strengthen this afternoon. I'm gradually narrowing the gap to the others - we'll see tomorrow how that works out. We're going to have this sort of weather for 40 to 45 days, so we need to get used to it.”
 
Meanwhile Jean-Pierre Dick became the seventh skipper to cross into the Indian Ocean after passing the Cape of Good Hope at 0915 UTC, completing the passage from Les Sables d'Olonne in 22 days, 21 hours and 13 minutes. Amazingly, despite being almost five days short of Alex Thomson's record-breaking run of 17 days, 22 hours and 58 minutes, Dick's time is still two hours less than that set by Armel Le Cléac'h in the 2012 Vendée Globe. Thomas Ruyant in eighth and Jean Le Cam in ninth are due to pass the milestone later today.