West Meets East, Recovery Time at the Vendée Globe on day 35
Sunday, December 11, 2016 9:32 AM
Alex Thomson has clawed back a small number of miles on Armel Le Cléac'h overnight in a Pacific, which is gradually easing for the two leaders before it reverts to its more malicious side. A new depression awaits the leading duo. Behind them Jean-Pierre Dick has gained miles on Yann Éliès, while Romain Attanasio has been making good progress since leaving South Africa yesterday morning.
After over 36 hours fighting through a really tough low pressure system, which brought gusts to 55 knots and big, unruly seas, the first of two successive Sundays for the leaders of the Vendée Globe should today offer a time to recover. And for second placed Alex Thomson this welcome period of respite will not just be an opportunity to rest and refuel himself. Indeed, the British skipper in second place will be in better breeze than his French rival Armel Le Cleac'h and so should recover lost miles as well as restoring his reserves of energy.
The complexities of the antemeridian - where west meets east at 180 degrees from the Greenwich Meridian - will scarcely concern the duo who are 180 miles apart this morning. Current weather files and routings suggest Le Cleac'h should pass the antemeridian at around 22:00 UTC this evening, Thomson some four hours or so later.
The Hugo Boss skipper is in a SW'ly breeze of around 20 knots and is showing a speed edge on starboard gybe and has made up around 10 miles on Banque Populaire VIII since last night. Their predicted passage of the next low pressure has evolved since yesterday. When 36 hours ago the weather models seemed to predict two different strategic options - north over the low which Thomson seemed to be following or south as per Le Cleac'h this morning - the tracking of the system to the SE seems slower and so the duo look to be sharing more or less the same route. They both seem set to have a tough period hard on the breeze, with the wind forward of 90 degrees, but predictions of the delta between the two opening significantly may, on current forecasts, be unfounded.
The last few days have been the toughest yet for the top two skippers, still 1,200 miles or more ahead of third placed Paul Meilhat (SMA). At 04:00 UTC this morning, some 610 miles SE of South Island, New Zealand, Le Cleac'h reported:
"It just never stops! Right now, conditions have eased a little: there's just 30-35 knots… But we've had a fair bit of breeze in this active low pressure system, with up to 55 knots of wind and the seas have deteriorated considerably. That said, the boat's making headway as it should, without suffering. Since I passed in front of Campbell, the wind has begun to ease and conditions aren't as terrible."
"It's complicated now because we're coming up on the new system quickly, but it's going to be tough to pass under the incoming low pressure system that's rolling down from New Zealand. It's not an easy strategy… The coming hours aren't going to be simple: I'll feel calmer on Tuesday morning once I'm clear of it! After that, we'll have to deal with an area of high pressure because it's blocking our way. The weather is forecast to be tricky and I'm going over my lessons from last winter, which I had with Jean-Yves Bernot on routing!
There are not really any surprises in the Southern Ocean. There's a succession of low pressure systems and the seas are rather messy, particularly between Australia and Campbell Island, which the leaders were negotiating last night (local time). However, this train of systems is raising some questions for Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac), who doesn't yet know how he'll negotiate a nasty storm in the area that is set to hit within the next four days… Indeed, the pace is still quick since the solo sailors in first to eleventh place are still bordering on or exceeding 400 miles a day!
Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord pour le projet Imagine) will be the eighth skipper to pass the longitude of Cape Leeuwin on Monday, while Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) is still powering along. Behind them, Nándor Fa (Spirit of Hungary) and Stéphane le Diraison (Compagnie du Lit-Boulogne Billancourt) have shaken off their pursuers, Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy) and Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline), thanks to a favourable front that is propelling them along at speed. Astern of them, the group of four (O'Coineen, Roura, Beillion, Wilson) are within fifty miles or so of one another and Didac Costa (One Planet-One Ocean) will now be able to count on a fellow competitor on his stern as Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Étamine du Lys) is back in the game! An almost normal Sunday in the Southern Ocean…