Vendée Globe, day 88: Never stop believing, never stop working
Wednesday, February 1, 2017 6:19 PM
Arnaud Boissières will climb north across the Equator later this afternoon or early Wednesday evening to leave six Vendée Globe skippers in the South Atlantic. After 88 days of racing it may seem like most of the long established hierarchy is set to remain in place but places can and will still change before the finish line in Les Sables d'Olonne is reached.
The most open, closest duel remains that between Didac Costa and Romain Attanasio – now side by side 45 miles apart west to east – 450 miles offshore of Rio – scrapping over 15th and 16th. The wily Catalan Costa has stayed further east and was making a couple of knots quicker than his French rival this Wednesday afternoon. Costa explained his thinking: “The last few days have been really intense for two reasons: one because of having Romain so close and two due to the weather. It has been very unstable, with calms, shifty winds and there have been frequent squalls. Since both our boats are from the same generation and also have very similar speeds. You really have to be all over the boat so that the other one does not escape or make a small gain. Romain's sail appears now and again and then disappears on the horizon. I have positioned myself more to the east now so I can try to be windward when the trade winds appear. We spent the last few hours in and out of squalls. It looked like the Doldrums. I have lost count of the sail changes, the reef in reef out changes I have made.”
Though their northwards progress has been slow of late, it has been a source of worry to Rich Wilson in front. The skipper of Great American IV has lost about 300 miles to the chasing duo over the course of the last week, but that loss has stabilised for the meantime and the American skipper's newer, more powerful Owen-Clarke design, Dominique Wavre's former Mirabaud, should prove quicker in the trade wind sailing once he can finally get into the more regular easterly breezes.
But Wilson is also flummoxed as to why he has lost so many miles to Alan Roura, the young Swiss skipper of La Fabrique. In fact, Roura has more than doubled his 150 mile lead over the last two to three days. Wilson is just looking for a regular breeze to allow him to climb the regular northbound rungs up the Atlantic, Salvador de Bahia, Recife and then the Equator, which for him is just under 1000 miles ahead: “The fact we have been going slowly has not been anything of a motivation issue. It has just been weather which has been difficult and trying. There is no wind and there is not much we can do about it. You expend more energy in the calm weather than you do when it is blowing. You push yourself hard when you are trying to make the boat do one knot, two knots, three knots and going around in circles. We have been keeping at it that is for sure.”
He told the audience in Les Sables d'Olonne today: “Yesterday was a difficult day. We had 15 or 16 hours going around in circles. I thought we were going to get more of the same for the next 24 hours but thankfully that has not materialised. We have crawled out of that and are making eight or nine knots now in seven or eight knots of breeze. We are pushing hard. We have lost contact now with the boats ahead and the boats behind are coming up behind us. We have a little breeze. And we went through a lot of rain squalls last night. The isobars are turning and it seems like there is havoc to be had here. We are going OK with the genoa and full main and going north. We have another couple of hundred miles to go to get to latitude of Salvador and then that is a nice milestone, then Recife and then the Equator. Then we will be back in our home ocean and that will be nice.”
Motivation and focus are not an issue for the Dutch skipper Pieter Heerema who is another skipper continuing to make steady gains. He is steadily eating into his deficit to the Attanasio v Costa match race. Five days ago, Heerema was over 850 miles behind, but that is more like 550 today. Closing down two of the oldest boats in the fleet whilst armed with the newest and potentially fastest boats still on the race course, Heerema may just be starting to believe he still might still be able to make up a place, or couple of places before his finish. Meantime Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) had less than 165 miles to the finish line of his Vendée Globe and has taken his foot off the gas slightly to ensure he stays super prudent through his final night at sea. He is due to cross the finish line and take seventh around 0800hrs UTC on Thursday morning.