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Vendée Globe: Louis Burton regulates his final sprint

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Vendée Globe - IMOCA Boat Bureau Vallée - skipper Louis Burton
Vendée Globe - IMOCA Boat Bureau Vallée - skipper Louis Burton

Louis Burton is likely to regulate his pace over the final 600 miles to Les Sables d'Olonne where he should finish the Vendée Globe on Wednesday night or early on Thursday morning and secure an excellent seventh place. Positioned some 350 miles to the NW of Cape Finisterre, Burton was making around 11-13kts this Tuesday afternoon.


Under no pressure at all from anyone astern of him, eighth placed Nandor Fa is 2136 miles behind. Burton's objective is to enter the legendary channel of Les Sables d'Olonne during the Thursday morning tidal window – between 0600hrs and midday. More than likely he will seek to cross the Nouch Sud finish line around daybreak, between 0800hrs and 0830hrs local time (UTC +1hr). Burton is the first skipper to encounter brisk conditions in the Bay of Biscay. Such is the story of his Vendée Globe, sailing consistent, average miles, suffering no significant breakdowns, storms or calms. He has raced very much in ‘splendid isolation' and seems to have regularly been gifted excellent, regular conditions for days at a time. He managed to ride successive private low pressure systems in the Indian Ocean and so moved progressively clear of those chasing him, such as Fa and Conrad Colman who both struggled in the Pacific, for different reasons.

While the six skippers who finished ahead of him, Armel Le Cléac'h and Alex Thomson, Jérémie Beyou, and then Jean Pierre Dick, Yann Eliès and Jean Le Cam, all had very light to moderate Biscay breezes, Burton has 25kts from the south this afternoon. He gybed to point his bows towards Les Sables d'Olonne at 1400hrs this afternoon and will see 30 and more through tonight and tomorrow, finally finishing his first Vendée Globe in about 20kts. Burton, whose father is Welsh, was the ‘benjamin' - as the French say - the youngest skipper to start the last race in 2012, at 27 a few months younger than race winner François Gabart. But a collision with a trawler meant a damaged shroud and early retirement, his Vendée Globe dreams shattered within a few days of the start. His consistency and the reliability of his boat are in part attributable to the fact that he and his Farr designed 2007 launched IMOCA are – as he describes it – the oldest partnership in the race. He has had the boat since 2011 and has started all the major IMOCA races since.

The Azores anticyclone has not yet finished with Nandor Fa. The only skipper in the fleet to have raced the 1992-93 edition of the Vendée Globe looked like he would emerge from the grip of the light winds today but the ridge is evolving from west to east and splitting to form two centres. It looks as if Spirit of Hungary will have 24-30 hours more of light winds before Fa can get into the regime of the low pressure systems. He is expected in Les Sables d'Olonne on February seventh.

Eric Bellion is in the NE'ly trade wind regime, headed slightly more to the west of north than the chasing tenth-placed Conrad Colman who is now out of the Doldrums on Foresight Natural Energy. Content to be making good miles northwards, Colman is having to work hard to balance his sailplan upwind. Left with just a small foretriangle and full mainsail he is very much looking forward to the breeze building which would require him to take in a reef, making for a more even balance. Colman has been keeping up an exercise regime – squats and push ups – to try and stay fit and strong. “Because I have nothing in between the Code Zero and a very small jib I have been doing a lot more manoeuvres than normal. So I have been chopping and changing, furling and unfurling quite a lot and so that has kept me busy and active. But I have also been doing so push ups and squats and trying to keep my legs in good shape. I am an avid cyclist as you know and I want to make sure I can still be useful in cycling when I get back and not get chucked off the back of my cycling group for having chicken legs,” Colman told the audience in Les Sables d'Olonne today.

The closest duel in the fleet remains the enduring tussle between Didac Costa and Romain Attanasio. The Catalan skipper on OnePlanet One Ocean, the former Kingfisher, is just over seven miles ahead of French Figarist Attanasio. Attanasio said today: “Now I have a huge area of thunderstorms ahead and am about to enter that zone. It's not that simple. I have taken in a reef. Didac doesn't have an AIS working, so I can't see exactly where he is. He's not within sight at the moment. It's nice to have him close, as we have been able to chat. I don't even know whether I really met him before the race or shook his hand. We're getting to know each other now. It's motivating.” Dutch skipper Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) is about 610 miles behind the head to head race and has gained 150 miles on them in three days.

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