LEADER LE CLÉAC'H BACK IN NORTHERN HEMISPHERE
SATURDAY 07 JANUARY 2017, 07H02
Vendée Globe leader Armel Le Cléac'h has crossed the Equator into the Northern Hemisphere, signalling the start of the drag race through the north Atlantic towards the finish line. The French skipper of Banque Populaire VIII passed the famed zero degrees line of latitude at 0023 UTC today after 61 days, 12 hours and 21 minutes at sea in this eighth edition of the solo non-stop round the world race.
Le Cléac'h spent 52 days in the southern hemisphere and after rounding Cape Horn, the southern most tip of South America, has taken 14 days,11 hours and 49 minutes to reach the Equator. The time from Cape Horn is 16 hours behind that set by winning skipper François Gabart in 2012-13 but Le Cléac'h remains more than four days ahead of Gabart's race record. At the 0400 UTC position report Le Cléac'h still had a jump of 145 nautical miles on second placed Alex Thomson, whose yacht Hugo Boss is expected to cross into the northern hemisphere within the next couple of hours. But with the dreaded Doldrums, the area of low pressure just to the north of the Equator notorious for its light, fickle winds, to pass in the next few days Le Cléac'h's lead could easily evaporate with one wrong move. Indeed, with the Doldrums extending north almost as high as the Cape Verde islands, the moves played out by the two frontrunners over the course of the weekend could likely decide the winner of the 2016-17 Vendée Globe.
Third-placed Jérémie Beyou on Maître CoQ still has some 800nm to sail to reach the Equator but with stable easterly trade winds he was this morning making just shy of 15 knots towards the target. The trio of Jean Le Cam, Jean-Pierre Dick and Yann Eliès have a small patch of light wind to transition through before resuming the charge north. Currently some 300 miles apart west to east, it is likely their courses will converge in the next few days. Around 600 miles from the Argentinean coast Louis Burton, the only other sailor in the Atlantic, was this morning dealing with winds of up to 35 knots from a strong depression that is set to last all weekend.
The 11 sailors still in the Pacific are now split by more than 4,000nm. Hungary's Nandor Fa in 8th leads the pack with just over 500nm to sail to reach Cape Horn while at the rear, in 18th, Sébastian Destremeau has left the shelter of Hobart and resumed his passage east. Tenth-placed Eric Bellion on Commeunseulhomme was this morning celebrating passing Point Nemo, the most remote place on the planet, more than 1,700nm from inhabited land in any direction.
“I have left Point Nemo behind and am now approaching land,” he said. “That’s nice, because it’s very complicated if there’s a problem down here. I’m going along the edge of the Antarctic Exclusion Zone and it’s getting bitterly cold - I got my gloves and fleece out for the first time. But it’s not unpleasant sailing in the Pacific. I feel great here. Conrad Colman is to my north-west and it looks like a nice race for us to Cape Horn.”
Éric Bellion (Commeunseulhomme): “I have got away from the high and the wind has returned, a 20-knot Sw’ly with fairly calm seas. Conrad Colman is to my NW and it looks like a nice race for us to Cape Horn. We should get some good conditions to leave the Pacific around 11th January. I’m going along the edge of the Antarctic Exclusion Zone and it’s getting bitterly cold. I got my gloves and fleece out for the first time. It’s cold air coming up from the Antarctic. I have left Point Nemo behind (the most remote location in the Southern Ocean- editor) and am now approaching land. That’s nice, because it’s very complicated, if there’s a problem down here. But it’s not unpleasant sailing in the Pacific. I feel great here. I heard there are blocks of ice ahead of me, so I’m in contact with the Race Directors to find out the exact position of these icebergs.”
Rich Wilson (Great American IV) in his log: “We got through the night OK, close reaching across the waves and into them a little bit, with staysail and 2 reefs in the mainsail. Mostly 25 knots of wind, and 30 plus across the deck. The motion was tolerable except for the occasional huge crash, but the noise was what became intolerable. The constant howling of the wind through the rigging just reminds you, second, to second to second, that it is not hospitable outside. That is reinforced by the noise of sheets of spray, from almost every wave, hitting the cabin top. The combination puts the nerves on a razor edge, and it’s difficult to take a nap or get any rest.”