GREAT EXPECTATIONS - THE COUNTERS ARE RESET
WEDNESDAY 04 JANUARY 2017, 18H13
For the Vendée Globe leaders, this eighth edition of the solo round the world race is increasingly feeling like a game of two very distinct, contrasting halves.
From the start on Sunday 6th November in Les Sables d’Olonne the pace was fast and furious, smashing records at each key point to Cape Leeuwin and into the Pacific Ocean. Even when Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII) rounded Cape Horn on 23rd December, the French skipper had an advance of five days, five hours and 38 minutes on the existing record to the legendary cape, set on January 1st 2009 by François Gabart. But a complicated and slow climb up the South Atlantic for the leading duo, Le Cléac’h and British skipper Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) – who this afternoon is 246 miles behind his French rival – has seen their margin against the record melt away like snow in the sun. By comparison, in January 2013 Le Cléac’h and leader Gabart had a relatively straightforward ascent of the Atlantic, pushing each other hard to the line.
As it stands this Wednesday afternoon the leaders are now only about 1150 miles or about three ‘normal’ days ahead of the existing record. And, ahead of them, though the next two and a half to three days to the Equator should see a small acceleration in ‘foiling’ conditions – 15-17kts E’ly then SE’ly tradewinds, the Doldrums look wide and active and the passage to the Canaries – at this time – is predicted to be atypical. Once out of the Doldrums the NE’ly trades do not look to be too reliable at the moment. And so any Christmas time great expectations that Gabart’s record would be blown apart by days now seem a little more fanciful.
Over the last two days, pre-race favourites, Jérémie Beyou and Yann Eliès, have sounded increasingly content with their position in the race. Both are ultra competitive, three times winners of La Solitaire du Figaro and for sure harboured aspirations of winning. But as they, too, sail northwards up the Atlantic, Beyou in third and Eliès in fifth, it is immediately apparent that they are now much more comfortable in their own minds with their positions in the fleet. In third, Beyou has been fortunate to slash more than 400 miles from his deficit to Alex Thomson and yesterday sounded almost light hearted, a notable evolution for a skipper who has had some dark days, struggling with technical problems.
Today it was Eliès’s turn to relish his northwards passage and his emerging intact from the Big South and in fighting form. For all that he might have hoped to beat veteran Jean Le Cam, 57, who is 13 miles behind him in sixth and who he has raced closely with since they entered the Pacific and to have outwitted Jean-Pierre Dick who is 59 miles ahead. Eliès is now 75 per cent of the way through his second attempt at the Vendée Globe. Eliès’s first shower in one month, in South Atlantic water of 12-13 deg Celsius, not only was about getting clean, but was as much about resetting his mind, purging expectations and re-focusing on the business of beating his two nearest rivals who between them have six Vendée Globe finishes to their credit. “I am in good company. They are stars of the Vendée Globe.
I don’t think I’ll be able to catch Jean-Pierre (Dick). It’s nice to be having this close contest. The other two are exceptional sailors. I’d like to be in front of them, but it’s not that easy as they are sailing so well,” said Eliès today, saying that he has read many books so far on his two Kindles, his way of switching off from the stress and noise.
Conrad Colman has tacked back towards the east late afternoon Wednesday and so is believed to have completed enough of his repairs to gradually power up his Foresight Natural Energy after struggling for more than 48 hours since losing the pin which secures his primary forestay, in a major storm during January 1st and 2nd. The Kiwi skipper had less than ten knots when he set his course back towards Cape Horn which is 1300 miles away for him, and he looks set to have light conditions for some hours to come.
Yann Eliès, Quéguiner- Leucémie Espoir: “It’s a bit like a battlefield out here with boat-breaking conditions in thirty knots of wind. There should be 4 or 5 more hours like this before it eases off. We’re beginning to feel stressed about the gear. There are huge strains on everything. If I was all alone, I would take it a bit easier. Those with me seem to be pushing even harder. It’s like summer here after being down at 58°S five days ago. I managed to take a shower even if it was saltwater and cold. It’s something I haven’t been able to do since the Cape of Good Hope. We’re now on a long stretch on the port tack. You have to be patient in these conditions. It’s time to start thinking about the finish in Les Sables d’Olonne even if it’s a long way away."
Eric Bellion, CommeUnSeulHomme: “I spent two days reaching in the low getting shaken around. I’m soaked but I’m happy as I’m making headway. We’re trying to keep up with the front. The past two days were the ones where the boat got the worst battering. I think the others suffered more than me, as they were further south. I’m not the same person as when we set sail. There has been a change. I think the deep low was the turning point. I’m more relaxed and am sailing. It doesn’t mean I have fewer problems, but it is more fun. I know my boat much better. We talk things over the two of us. It’s really a pleasure to be out here. Even I feel at home here, I still want to get back to land. I have an extraordinary boat and she is in good condition. And I’m in good health.”
Jean le Cam, Finistère Mer Vent: "We’re still slamming in this low, but it should ease off this evening. There will be an area of light winds to deal with and then we’ll be on the starboard tack to the Doldrums. I have been with Yann (Eliès) for quite some time. When you have a ridge of high pressure like that it’s hard to know what is happening, as the forecasts aren’t very accurate. It’s in light winds that there is the greatest uncertainty. From the Cape of Good Hope to where I am now, I have regained 700 miles from the leaders. I’m an expert at repairing things. I gybed. I heard clac clac and the damage was done. I went to bed as it was dark. I spent the night with the mainsail damaged. I woke up and set about sorting that out. I started at 9 and finished at 6 in the evening. In the end I didn’t lose that much, but it was a tiring day. I had the mainsail down on the deck. I thought I had sailed about a hundred miles, but it was only 35.”
Rich Wilson (USA) Great American IV: “We took a little bit of a beating the other night in the front when a couple of tack-gybes did not go so well. There was lots of wind and 15-18 foot seas and the wind changed direction. The boat got beat up, I got beat up. It was pretty scary. It was very tiring. It took about a day to recover. We have come north to position ourselves for the next depression which is bigger but I think we are better positioned.”
Alex Thomson and Armel le Cléac'h are probably looking closely at the wind models for the North Atlantic. It does not seem to be easy.
The first skippers are beginning to look closely at the weather situation in the North Atlantic. A depression situated West of the Canary Islands January 8th will arrive to disrupt the classic scenario. It fills on January 10th and moves slightly to the West, which leaves a big zone with light winds. How are they going to round this zone?
The question of the position of the Azores high will raise itself then. Is it going to reestablish itself in its usual location? There will be many questions on the way to the finish line. The race is not over. In the shorter run, crossing the Doldrums without losing too much distance will be the major objective for the skippers.
Behind, Jérémie Beyou pursues his straight route while the trio made up of Jean Pierre Dick, Yann Eliès and Jean Le Cam are sailing in 30 knots of wind, in a in a rough sea and at a close wind angle, conditions which are testing for the equipment and the sailors. The South Atlantic is once again faithful to its reputation. The conditions are not easy, the weather models are unstable and the wind variations are brutal in this part of the world.
Christian Dumard and Bernard Sacré / Great Circle
WHEN A VICTORY IS STAYING ON COURSE
THURSDAY 05 JANUARY 2017, 18H26
Conrad Colman is in recovery mode. The Kiwi skipper in ninth place in the Vendée Globe is recovering physically after three epic days battling to keep alive his ten year dream to complete the famous solo round the world race.
Rest is the best medicine for his cut hands, his strained and bruised limbs and battered body and the 34 year old solo skipper, who is on his third racing circumnavigation, has enough experience as a sailor and endurance athlete to know he can deal progressively with that requirement. But at the same time as his relief is palpable that his strength of character and the toughness of his boat and rig proved enough to keep him in the race, so too it is impossible for him not to reflect on the miles lost while he was in his fight with the elements.
Keeping his Foresight Natural Energy on the race track, heading east towards Cape Horn since yesterday evening, when he came within a hairsbreadth of losing his mast, should feel like a triumph in itself. But to the hard bitten competitor who has been punching above his weight since the start, the 350 or so miles he has lost to Nandor Fa in front of him and now with Eric Bellion just some 203 miles behind, the miles lost to his exhausted mind have the feel of a knockout punch.
Colman told today how his IMOCA 60 was held on its side for several hours in 60kt winds and huge seas after he ended up in the most violent part of a vicious low. The situation was precipitated by the loss of a mainsail batten which, he reported, broke the intermediate fixings holding his mainsail to the mast. Because he slowed to fix this problem he ended up in the storm which turned out to be much worse than initially forecast. “I was sailing in 50-60kts of wind and it was gusting higher. And so I was sailing with just the third reef and no foresail. I was actually outside helming when I came off a wave with a big bang and saw the forestay go limp. I saw the pin at the bottom had broken and fallen out. That meant the primary forestay which holds the mast up, which had a sail furled on it, was then free to fly about. And so as soon it was not held at the bottom any more, it unfurled and was whipping the forestay about. That was in 50-60 knots of wind. And on that point of sail with the sail flying like a flag from the top of the mast it pulled the boat over, almost capsized,” Colman said today. “And it stayed like that for several hours while the mast was shaking. I was very afraid to lose the rig at that point.”
There was nothing more Colman could do than protect himself as best he could inside the boat, waiting until the worst of the storm had passed. He then spent the best part of a day, including three periods, totalling six hours, up his mast in 30kts of wind, trying to cut away his knotted headsail. “And to cut the sail away took five or six hours hanging in the harness, to separate it off the bottom of the forestay,” Colman continued,
“That was a whole day to separate it off the bottom of the stay. Finally the wind reduced, now I was able to put a new pin in and to put a lashing in place to secure the forestay. The mast stayed up. It is secure. I can keep sailing but as far as my race goes. I am down three sails now and I have lost eight hundred miles on my lead on the guys behind me. It will be really difficult to maintain my position in the race. But having seen my race coming so close to ending, I am pleased to be still floating, to have a mast, and the ability to keep on going. Physically I am shattered. Emotionally I am very disappointed I felt like I was doing everything right, I was sailing very conservatively at the time, I was let down by a technical failure. The fact I ended up where I did was not because of my seamanship, but just the wear and tear on the boat. It is disheartening to see my position in the fleet come under risk as a result of a couple of really, really hard days. I just need to look at it relatively and say I have had a really good race. I have been punching above my weight for most of this race. I am now down three sails. And I have lost most of my lead on the boats behind. But if I can get round Cape Horn in this position, then if I lose places coming up the Atlantic then it will be inevitable. I no longer have the ability to fight against other boats which are in better condition.”
Miles are coming more easily for Alex Thomson and Armel Le Cléac’h as the top duo extend into SE’ly trade winds which have built to be closer to 20kts now. Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire VIII has less than 400 miles of Southern Hemisphere sailing left. The Doldrums are enlarging, becoming more active as they approach, but it is the North Atlantic ascent to the Bay of Biscay which is taxing their minds right now, looking ahead. Thomson, back sailing at even speeds with his rival who is 340 miles ahead, said this morning: “By this afternoon I should be matching him. And then on the approach to the Doldrums I might be able to catch up a little. Things are not too bad. Everything is good on board. These are easy miles to make and I am quite comfortable. The only thing I can think about right now is the Doldrums, once get across that I need to look at the strategy for the North Atlantic which looks quite daunting at the moment. It does not look very normal. And so that is where I am looking at the moment. I am looking at how to get to the finish as fast as possible, not thinking at all about the finish.”
In fifth and sixth places Yann Eliès and Jean Le Cam were racing half a mile apart this afternoon. Irish skipper Enda O’Coineen who lost his mast on New Year’s Day has arrived in Dunedin this afternoon, towed the final miles there. And Sébastien Destremau is expecting to leave the haven of Port Esperance, Tasmania tonight (daytime local) after checking his rig and repairing a spreader, now ready to take on the Pacific.
Armel le Cléac’h, Banque Populaire VIII: "Right until the end, it’s not going to be easy. The weather is not in the usual configuration. There’s a low off the Canaries, which is upsetting the weather patterns. The Doldrums are going to be a bit complicated. We’ll have to deal with what comes our way. Since rounding the Horn, the weather hasn’t been kind. I’m focusing on the charts and my trajectory. With less than a fortnight to go, I’m trying to stay in front. The final stretch is looking complicated.”
Jean-Pierre Dick, StMichel-Virbac: "It was tough – a day with thirty knot winds and choppy seas. It’s hard to sleep when it’s like that. I have more or less got the situation under control. The battle for fourth place is going to be close. It’s important for everyone to finish the race. These projects take such a long time. It’s really satisfying to see the finish.”
Nandor Fa (Spirit of Hungary): “I’m in the transition zone. This light wind varies between 4 and 10 knots. I must manage to get through the zone with this little breeze somehow, at least 20 miles to reach the real wind. There’s no wind, the sails are luffing and clapping in the never-ending waving, the whole boat is suffering. It’s really frustrating but there’s nothing I can do. Meanwhile, there is a strong current that is running East with me. The organizers notified me about new icebergs. In front of me, way above the exclusion border there are several icebergs drifting - five to be precise. I’m going their way so it will be crucial to keep the radar on. The temperature has fallen significantly, this could be because I’m near the 55th latitude, but it could also be due to the icebergs nearby. I really wanted to complete the race within 90 days, but I don’t see any chance for that. Okay, it’s going to be 90 plus 1-2 days… so what? At least my record will be easier to break by the emerging Hungarian youth.”
Alan Roura (La Fabrique): “I’ve come off quite well. It could have been much worse. We were close to disaster. But I’m feeling fine! I got some messages from other competitors, from the gang of five and Romain Attanasio who were amazed. They told me I was a great sailor and really crazy. They called me MacGyver! The Race Directors were equally impressed… It’s unheard of to fit a rudder so quickly in such conditions. They told me I was a champion!”
Alex better be careful or he will get passed soon!
THREE KINGS: FA CLOSING CAPE HORN, LE CLÉACH’S 34 DAY REIGN IN THE DOLDRUMS, KING JEAN IS FOURTH
FRIDAY 06 JANUARY 2017, 17H31
Hungarian Vendée Globe skipper Nandor Fa is having the race of his life in the Vendée Globe. The 62-year old wrestler, turned canoeist turned Olympic sailor, who came back to solo ocean racing after a 20 year hiatus to compete in this pinnacle event of shorthanded sailing, is expected to pass Cape Horn on Sunday morning. This Friday afternoon Fa is some 620 miles shy of Cape Horn and his release from what has been a tough Pacific ocean for him and the IMOCA 60 which he designed himself.
When, 30 years ago, he was making his first passage round the famous cape in a 31 foot cruising yacht which Fa and his friend had built from a bare hull, the current Vendée Globe leader Armel Le Cléac’h was a nine year old in his Optimist at home in Morlaix Bay. Fa and his friend had sailed away around the world as their expression of freedom from a political regime which, showing solidarity with the Russian boycott, banned Fa from taking his place as the Finn class representative at the 1984 Olympic regatta in Los Angeles. Since then Fa has been round the Cape two more times solo, during the BOC Challenge in 1990, in his first Vendée Globe in 1993 in which he finished fifth, and more recently during the Barcelona World Race when he sailed with Conrad Colman in 2015. Fa’s Vendée Globe is far from finished, but the Cape will mark a big emotional milestone. No skipper has the right to finish the Vendée Globe, but Fa has certainly endured enough hardship and frustration in recent years trying to get to the start of this race to at least be granted a safe passage round the Horn.
The Spirit of Hungary which he built in Hungary, overseeing most of the construction, hands-on for much of the time, suffered structural delamination in the Atlantic in 2014 on his way to New York for his first race. He had to repatriate the boat by cargo ship, re-laminating and refitting much of the hull, before only just winning a race against time to start the Barcelona World Race. Some weeks from the start his chosen co-skipper chose to stand down as he feared that he had not yet the experience to contribute safely alongside Fa. Colman stepped in. But the Pacific is not giving in easily to Fa, who said this afternoon, “It makes me happy to be getting closer, but it does not come easy. I am fighting for each and every mile. The wind is not easy. Yesterday I had a terrible night and day and all the waves were coming from ahead and the boat was so slamming I was afraid for the boat. I am moving and I am happy. It is so freezing cold. You can only work outside for a couple of minutes. It is six degrees in the cabin. The boat is OK. I check everything regularly and I always find something. I am really, really keen to be there. It is so cold. It is so difficult, everything. I am really fed up with the Pacific Ocean right now.”
The Doldrums are becoming slow and sticky at times for race leader Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII) but sometimes he has still been managing to make 15kts in the squally gusts. Second placed Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) is still with a decent SE’ly trade wind and so scything into the French skipper’s lead once again. Already today he has reduced Le Cléac’h’s deficit by 100 miles to 235 miles and was still making 21kts of average speed.
In third place Jérémie Beyou gets into more established E’ly trade winds and also starts to accelerate at some 700 miles behind Thomson. There seems little doubt that the Doldrums will compact the first three, while the North Atlantic is a strategic chessboard. Alex Thomson said today: “It will be interesting to see how it all pans out in the next couple of days. After the Doldrums into the North Atlantic and we are upwind, it is kind of an unusual situation and the models are not really agreeing. It is not really clear how to find a path through the mess and in to Les Sables d’Olonne. With these scenarios in the North Atlantic it does create some opportunities and what I need is an opportunity to close in on Armel and be able to challenge for the lead. Change is good for me.”
On the Epiphany, the day of the Three Kings is celebrated in European countries, but the wily King Jean Le Cam – also a three times winner of the Solitaire du Figaro – has proven masterful at staying with Jean-Pierre Dick and Yann Eliès. It is the consistent speed and rhythm of Le Cam that impresses his nearest rivals at the moment. The veteran 57 year old who finished second in 2004-2005 and fifth in 2012-13 is now up to fourth, moving ten miles ahead of Eliès and 20 miles ahead of Jean-Pierre Dick. Le Cam races the Farr designed yacht which won the 2008 race as Foncia which was extensively remodelled before winning the Barcelona World Race with Le Cam partnering Bernard Stamm.
Arnaud Boissières, La Mie Câline: “It’s a bit cold. There is not much wind. It’s a bit odd as I’m sailing upwind in the Southern Ocean. I’m keeping an eye on my car, when I do something with the mainsail, but for the moment, it seems to be fine, so the repair seems to be holding out. It’s funny being so far into the race and yet so close to others. It’s reassuring. It was a bit stressful in the low. It was forecast, but I found myself right in it, so I eased off to avoid damage. I’m careful not to push too hard. When we get to the Horn, it’s a huge relief, but if I’m doing the Vendée Globe, it’s to be in the Southern Ocean and face the elements.”
Alex Thomson (GBR) Hugo Boss: “With these scenarios in the North Atlantic it does create some opportunities. I am running my routing to Les Sables d’Olonne at the moment, but then we are running routes which are looking two weeks ahead. Two weeks in terms of weather forecasting is pure and utter fiction. I am in good shape and the boat is in not bad shape at all. There are one or two problems, the anemometer issue is one thing, but apart from that it is not bad at all. A lot of people consider this to be an individual sport. I see it as a team sport like Formula 1. Although there is one driver who drives the race, you have a huge team behind you to make the boat fast and to make it reliable.”
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.”
THOMSON JOINS LE CLÉAC'H IN THE NORTH AFTER RECORD-BREAKING RUN
SUNDAY 08 JANUARY 2017, 07H06
Alex Thomson has become the second Vendée Globe skipper to pass the Equator back into the northern hemisphere, setting a new race record in the process. The British skipper of Hugo Boss passed zero degrees latitude at 1712 UTC yesterday, 16 hours and 49 minutes behind leader Le Cléac'h. Thomson's passage from Cape Horn has taken 13 days, five hours and 30 minutes, smashing 2012-13 Vendée Globe winner François Gabart's existing record for the passage by 14 hours.
The 42-year-old Brit took 62 days, five hours and 10 minutes to cross the Equator heading north after starting the solo round the world race from Les Sables d'Olonne in France on November 6 – more than three days ahead of Gabart's record-breaking run. Incredibly Thomson rounded Cape Horn on Christmas Day lagging behind Le Cléac'h by almost 500 nautical miles, but favourable conditions in the South Atlantic saw him reel in his French rival, at one point getting to within 50nm of Le Cléac'h's Banque Populaire. The delta separating the pair was this morning fixed at 146nm as both skippers tried to wiggle their way through a very active Doldrums located just north of the Equator. Le Cléac'h had a slim advantage at the 0400 UTC rankings with speeds of seven knots compared to a painful four knots for Thomson. The unstable, light winds currently stretch around 600 miles to the north of the duelling pair, hampering their progress towards the finish line.
The same can't be said for third-placed Jérémie Beyou, who is making the most of the south-easterly trade winds to eat into the deficit between first and third. In just 24 hours the French skipper of Maître CoQ has clawed back 300nm on the leading duo, and more miles are expected to tumble throughout the course of the day. Hungarian sailor Nandor Fa, currently in eighth place, is expected to pass Cape Horn today, having only 270 miles to go at 0400 UTC. The quickest skipper this morning was 10th-placed Frenchman Eric Bellion, making 17 knots towards Cape Horn in south-westerly wind of around 13 knots.
In a call to Vendee Globe HQ this morning, TechnoFirst FaceOcean skipper Sébastien Destremau revealed he had carried out a major repair to his mast after leaving the shelter of Port Esperance in Tasmania. “The opportunity to exit the bay though the very narrow passage was too good to be missed so I took it even if I still had a mega job up the mast outstanding on my 'to do' list,” said Destremau, who spent three days at anchor making repairs to damaged rig. I sailed for a few hours to be well offshore then slowed the boat right down and went up the rig to sand, glue, laminate carbon fibre and so on. The boat is now in perfect condition and I am very confident the mast is as strong as it can be.”
Will Carson / M&M
BEYOU CAPITALISES ON LEADERS' WOES AS FA NEARS FIFTH CAPE HORN ROUNDINGSUNDAY 08 JANUARY 2017, 15H41
While all eyes are on the Vendée Globe's leading pair Armel Le Cléac'h and Alex Thomson as their epic tussle heads into its 64th day, third-placed Jérémie Beyou has been quietly sneaking up on them. In three days French skipper Beyou has reduced the gap between his raceboat Maître CoQ and the two favourites from 1,000 nautical miles to less than 700nm.
Beyou has been able to shave more than 300nm off after le Cléac'h and Thomson were snared by the Doldrums, an ever-changing band of low pressure close to the Equator that is notorious for its unpredictability. With Le Cléac'h's Banque Populaire and Thomson's Hugo Boss sufficiently trapped inside the system the Doldrums ballooned to around 350nm wide from north to south, spelling several days of misery for the leaders with boat speeds down to as low as two knots. The growth of the Doldrums is thanks to a big low pressure system forming some 1,500nm to the north of Le Cléac'h and Thomson, west of the Canary Islands. And while they have been powerless to escape the clutches of the Doldrums, Beyou had been more than happy to capitalise on the misfortunes of his rivals by charging north through the South Atlantic trade winds at a constant 15 knots.
According to four-time Vendée Globe competitor Mike Golding, there's a chance for Beyou to reduce the deficit even further in the coming days. Golding, the first sailor ever to finish three editions of the race, said an uncertain forecast for the North Atlantic could also benefit Jean-Pierre Dick, Jean Le Cam and Yann Eliès in fourth, fifth and sixth, around 500 miles behind Beyou. “Normally as you get out of the Doldrums you get into a steady and building north-easterly flow but that's been disrupted by a depression to the north,” the British sailor told the Vendée Live show today. “The band of light winds that the Doldrums generally represents is much wider and less distinct than normal and that's bad news for Armel. Potentially Jérémie could close the gap up. Even the guys behind – Jean Pierre, Jean and Yann - have an opportunity, because the weather forecast for the North Atlantic is so disturbed and unpredictable.”
lthough currently trailing Le Cléac'h by 143nm, the advantage is with Thomson as the pair prepare to pick their way through the complicated weather thrown at them by the North Atlantic. “It's certainly a stressful time for Armel and Alex, but probably more so for Armel,” he added. “He's been in the lead so long but he's watched that very substantial lead evaporate to almost nothing. Now with a weather forecast like this ahead of them he's going to be in a very difficult situation. The course ahead looks blotchy – there are pockets of wind and pockets of no wind. What's more it's going to be all on starboard, the tack where Alex can use his foil, and we know that his boat is quick in the nominal, low speed foiling conditions. The ball is very much in Alex's court – he's behind and can watch what happens to Armel. Armel has his work cut out but he's done a fantastic job hanging on to the lead this far and I don't expect him to give it up easily. It makes for a very interesting last 10 days for the frontrunners.”
Eighth-placed Spirit of Hungary skipper Nandor Fa was today within 200 miles of Cape Horn. It will be the fifth time the sailor, now 63, will have passed the famous landmark having first rounded it on a small cruising boat in 1987, then again in the 1990 BOC Challenge, the 1992 Vendée Globe, and the 2014 Barcelona World Race. Speaking to Vendée Globe HQ in Paris from his position 200 miles west of Cape Horn, Fa said his fifth rounding would be a 'special moment', spoiled only by the fact that he would not get to see the milestone in daylight. “I will see the lights from the lighthouse at the Horn but I won't see the island itself and that makes me a little bit upset,” he said. “I was dreaming about a daylight rounding in nice sunshine, and having a feast, but I'm afraid that won't happen now. This is the fifth time I've been here and maybe the last time. I will say hello and goodbye to the Horn, and drink some champagne. It will be a special feeling – it is already.”
Will Carson / M&M
CRITICAL TWELVE HOURS FOR VENDÉE GLOBE LEADERS, SAYS WALKER
MONDAY 09 JANUARY 2017, 16H39
The next 12 hours could prove crucial to the outcome of the 2016-17 Vendée Globe, according to British sailing star Ian Walker. Walker, the reigning champion of the Volvo Ocean Race, has been glued to his computer following the exploits of fellow countryman Alex Thomson, currently locked in an epic battle for first place with Frenchman Armel Le Cléac’h
As the solo non-stop round the world race enters its final 3,000 nautical miles Le Cléac’h's Banque Populaire VIII leads Thomson's Hugo Boss by just 88 miles. After slowing to just two knots yesterday in the depths of the Doldrums, Le Cléac’h was this afternoon back up to speed making 14 knots just prior to the 1400 UTC position report. The Breton skipper lost more than 100 miles to Thomson in the Doldrums, allowing the Brit to get to within 50 miles of his position, but this afternoon he had started to pull away again with Thomson only making nine knots.
With the pair apparently breaking free of the grasp of the Doldrums today, Walker, who was recently made an MBE for services to sailing, said what happens in the coming few hours could prove critical in the sprint to the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne, France. “Alex has had a great few days, there's no denying that,” Walker told the Vendée Globe Live show today. “He's had a much better passage through the Doldrums and if he can stay within 100 miles of Armel then he's within half a day's sailing, and there's still a long way to go. The next six or twelve hours is quite important because if Alex isn't quite out of the Doldrums and Armel is able to double his lead, and it was just a stretching of the elastic that we've just seen, then that won't be good news for Alex. But while Alex will make a few losses now I don't think he should haemorrhage too many miles before they're back on an even keel.”
While admitting Le Cléac’h is the favourite to win, Walker said there were plenty of variables which could effect the overall outcome of this eighth edition of the Vendée Globe. The double Olympic silver medallist added: “What we don't know is what state both their boats are in – do they have all their sails still available, what damage do they have? It looks like Alex will be on starboard tack for most of the trip home and we saw earlier in the race he had excellent boat speed against the other competitors, but we don't know how much Armel has been holding back. What we do know is that we've got a fantastic race on our hands.” For his part Thomson appeared upbeat today after latching on to an unforeseen but welcome breeze. “There's been some wind that wasn't expected and I'm currently going quite fast although I'm on port tack,” he reported. “Hopefully this breeze will last for a while but there's definitely going to be a slow down before we get the north-easterly breeze after the Doldrums. It's not all plain sailing at the moment.”
French sailor Jérémie Beyou became the third skipper to feel the effects of the Doldrums, slowing to just a few knots this morning. “A few hours ago I was completely stopped,” he said. “I thought the Doldrums would be kinder to me.” By the 1400 UTC ranking the skipper of Maître CoQ was travelling at 13 knots, firmly focused on reducing the deficit to the leaders further. “Ahead of me there’s a gap of 500 miles and behind me a gap of 800 miles, so I prefer to watch what’s happening in front of me,” he added.
Fourteenth-placed American sailor Rich Wilson, having caught up more than 100 miles on the three skippers immediately in front of him by riding an easterly-moving depression, said his immediate aim was to get to the Atlantic as quickly as possible. “I was lucky, as sometimes us sailors get,” he said. “I was at the front of a depression while the group just ahead were stuck in a high without any wind. I've been able to close up to Alan Roura. My fondest hope right now is that the fog would clear so I could see where Alan is. We're only about five or six miles apart but I don't see him on the AIS and that makes me a bit nervous. The chatter among the group down here on email is 'let's get to Cape Horn as fast as we can and get out of the Southern Ocean.”
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss): “I had a terrible night last night – it felt like I did one or two knots for most of it and into this morning. Today's not been too bad, there's been some wind that wasn't expected and I'm currently going quite fast although I'm on port tack.”
Jérémie Beyou, (Maître CoQ): "I’m not out of the squall. I’m in the rain, but at least I’m moving. I don’t know whether this is good news. If the squall moves northwards with me, I’m going to find it hard to keep going. I had a complicated night. A few hours ago, I was completely stopped. I had managed to regain 500 miles from the leaders, so have been looking ahead of me. As far as my sails are concerned, I don’t have any worries. I don’t have a staysail for stronger winds, but I still have my code 0 and can use that. That is allowing me to get out of the calms.”
LE CLÉAC’H VENTS FRUSTRATION AT COMPLEX FINAL WEEK
TUESDAY 10 JANUARY 2017, 15H56
Vendée Globe leader Armel Le Cléac’h today spoke of his frustration as erratic weather in the North Atlantic complicates his path to the finish line. At the latest position update the Frenchman had a narrow lead of 99 miles over British rival Alex Thomson as the pair forged their way north, around 350 miles south west of the Cape Verde Islands.
A costly passage through the Doldrums for Le Cléac’h has now been compounded by complex weather uncharacteristic of this part of the ocean. By rights Le Cléac’h should be enjoying fast sailing on Banque Populaire VIII in steady north-easterly trade winds, conditions that could have allowed him to consolidate his lead over Thomson's Hugo Boss. Instead a large depression 1,500 nautical miles to the north is disrupting the trades and playing havoc with Le Cléac’h's bid for a first Vendée Globe title. “The situation isn’t very clear in comparison to the forecasts,” the exasperated Breton skipper said. “For two or three days it’s been hard getting north. It’s been thundery weather since the Equator. The Doldrums travelled up with us with big clouds and heavy squalls. It hasn’t been as thundery since yesterday, but is very cloudy, and we’ve got some more complicated patches ahead. It’s different from the usual scenario and I’m at the limit of my understanding of the weather.”
Still hurting from seeing his 500nm lead at Cape Horn reduced to 146nm at the Equator, Le Cléac’h's quest for glory was dealt a further blow when he was snared by the Doldrums. Thomson's passage, by comparison, was much quicker and at one point he came to within 50nm of Le Cléac’h. Now the pair must deal with whatever the weather throws at them as their race for the finish line enters its final week. “We don’t have manoeuvres like we did in the Southern Ocean,” Le Cléac’h added. “It’s just a question of trimming depending on what the wind throws at us. I thought I had got away from the Doldrums but that wasn’t the case. It was more favourable for Alex and that's hard to take. For the moment, we’re in front. We are going to have to see what happens.”
Six hundred miles south, third-placed Jérémie Beyou joined Le Cléac’h and Thomson in the northern hemisphere after passing the Equator at 1329 UTC. Beyou is likely to have a much simpler traverse of the Doldrums, which are forecast to shrink in the west in the next 24 hours. That will also be good news for fourth-placed Jean-Pierre Dick, who has gambled on his route close to the coast of Brazil paying off by allowing him to skirt round the western edge of the Doldrums.
French sailor Eric Bellion is set to become the ninth skipper to round Cape Horn tomorrow, followed closely by New Zealander Conrad Colman. Three thousand miles west, Dutch sailor Pieter Heerema was temporarily celebrating after the wind hole that has held him for several days started to relinquish its grip. “The position of the area of no wind was a little different to what I was expecting,” the 65-year-old explained. “I've been locked up and the waves were coming at me from everywhere. It was a bit bouncy without much progress, but in the last two hours a little bit of breeze has started to establish and I think that will build and we'll be on our way again.” No Way Back skipper Heerema, in 17th, said the waves had been so bad that he had not been able to carry out any routine maintenance despite the lack of wind. “The boat was moving so badly there was nothing I could do – I couldn't stand or sit so I was just lying in my bed being bored for a long time,” he added. “They aren't big jobs though, nothing that will hamper my progress. I'm just trying to point the nose east as much as possible in the direction of Cape Horn - I want to get out of the Pacific as quickly as possible.”
Will Carson / M&M
LE CLÉAC’H EXTENDS LEAD; BOISSIÈRES DUELS WITH 'GUARDIAN ANGEL'
WEDNESDAY 11 JANUARY 2017, 07H03
French sailor Armel Le Cléac’h has almost doubled his lead on arch-rival Alex Thomson overnight after finding breeze to the west of the Cape Verde islands.
After several days of painful progress through the Doldrums that allowed Thomson to close the gap to under 100 nautical miles, Le Cléac’h was this morning 180nm ahead of the Brit. In fact in the 30 minutes leading up to the 0400 UTC report the speedo on Banque Populaire VIII was up to 17 knots while Thomson's Hugo Boss was only making 11. The new buffer will be welcomed by Le Cléac’h, who yesterday spoke of his frustration that an unlucky Doldrums crossing had allowed Thomson back into the game.
Jérémie Beyou, on the other hand, has barely felt the effect of the Doldrums after he passed the Equator yesterday at 1329 UTC. With the Doldrums dissipating, Beyou's Maître CoQ was this morning making a steady 10 knots north, 700nm behind Le Cléac’h. Eric Bellion was today just 150 miles from Cape Horn, with Conrad Colman a further 100 miles behind.
In the Pacific French sailor Arnaud Boissières was this morning relishing in a fantastic battle for 11th place with fellow countryman Fabrice Amedeo. Boissières was this morning around 20nm to the north of Amedeo, and around 10nm closer to Cape Horn, which they should both pass this weekend. “I had a fantastic day in the Pacific - I picked up some wind, did some manoeuvres, hoisted the spinnaker and met Fabrice Amedeo,” said La Mie Caline skipper Boissières, on this his third Vendée Globe. “What more could you want? We’ve been talking a lot. He’s my guardian angel. We have got going again after a few quiet days. We just split up under a cloud with me getting away under spinnaker. We got back together again when the sun appeared. It’s encouraging to see another boat after so long. I managed to stay under spinnaker for longer than him and we’re out of sight again now.”
Will Carson / M&M
Rich Wilson (Great American IV) in his daily log: “We have 1500 nautical miles to Cape Horn. A few days ago we were on the Asia Pacific satellite, with a declining elevation of the satellite over the horizon, and we switched to the Americas satellite. We study the weather to Cape Horn. One more depression coming along in a day and a half. We hope that we can skirt its southern side, up against the Antarctic Exclusion Zone, to minimize the wind strength that we will see. The group ahead, although within a hundred miles, is still going faster than we are. Today’s more moderate conditions mean that that’s a bit slow. But within a few hours we should get more, so in my decision-making, I don’t think it’s worth the effort, and mileage lost, to do two more sail changes, up with the full main, and then back down again into a reef, which will surely be needed.”