In the Vendee Globe, Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) remained the fastest man at the front of the fleet, albeit less dramatically than on Thursday morning, as he chips away at the lead of the three in front. Only Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique), getting ready to be the last skipper round Cape Horn on Thursday night, has been quicker since the last ranking four hours ago, averaging 16.1 knots. Otherwise Thomson’s 14 knots is the best.
His more westerly passage to the equator and through the doldrums (probably starting on Friday afternoon) still looks favourable on paper and he gave some insight to his strategy for being there and for what he will do in the North Atlantic: 'Even if I do make the miles up and I was to get equal with Jean-Pierre (Dick), if we’re sailing in the same breeze and neither of us have any problems, he does have a slightly faster boat,' Thomson said to Vendée Globe TV.
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'So I have to think about that, I can’t really be doing the same thing as those guys, if I have a chance to beat them. There’s a big gap between me and Jean Le Cam (in fifth) so in terms of routing and navigation, maybe there’s a possibility of taking some risks for making some gains and not following people because if I follow I’m not going beat them in a boat speed race.'
One the oldest maxims is sailing races is: ‘if you stay behind, you stay behind.’ This applies especially when those in front have a speed advantage. This is not gamesmanship by Thomson, it’s a fact. Hugo Boss is fast, but it’s a second generation boat from the last edition of the Vendée Globe, the three in front are all new and have been demonstrably faster in the same conditions. It is the reason that Thomson’s performance has drawn praise from all quarters. Despite the extraordinary speed of Gabart and Le Cléac’h and to a lesser extend Dick, he is still in with a chance.
At the front, after seeing his lead dwindle in the doldrums to 61 miles on Wednesday night, Francois Gabart (Macif) has edged slightly away from Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) to 92.8 on Thursday afternoon. Gabart has averaged 12 knots in the last four hours, compared to Le Cléac’h’s 10.1 knots. But with both clear of the doldrums on Thursday morning, Le Cléac’h looks like he has banked almost all of the 200 miles he made up since Monday afternoon. 'In the big picture I did well,' Le Cléac’h said. 'I hope I be able to use this great crossing for the finish. Everything remains possible.' Perhaps to rub salt in the wound Le Cléac’h explained he had a nice sail for when there is no wind – a Code 0 - a hybrid between a Genoa sail and gennaker and particularly suitable for light airs.
With around ten days to the finish line in Les Sables, the last big hurdle for them to negotiate is the Azores high.
There have obviously been other negotiations going on and Le Cléac’h, perhaps, had some of the pressure taken off him as his sponsor Banque Populaire reaffirmed their commitment to sailing until 2016. They announced that they have bought the old Groupama III maxi trimaran, renamed it Banque Populaire VII, and that Le Cléac’h will skipper it in the 2014 Route du Rhum.
Meanwhile, third-placed Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3), averaging 13.3 knots in the last four hours, is still edging back. He trails Gabart by 390.6 miles and Le Cléac’h by 298. Unlike Thomson he will be more confident of match racing the two in front if, and it’s still a big if, he can catch them.
Dick became the third skipper to cross the equator at 10.02 UTC on Thursday after 67 days 22 hours and 00 minutes, also well inside the old record of 71 days 17 hours and 12 minutes set by Michel Desjoyeaux in winning the last edition. Dick will enter the doldrums on Thursday night.
At the front of the group of pain for the middle five boats in the fleet, Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) has almost reached Rio. His extraordinary route to escape the high-pressure hole, took him to less than 50 miles from the coast of Brazil before he tacked due east, averaging just 5.8 hours in the last four hours. 'As the Carnival is coming soon I’m going to stop at Rio,' he joked on Vendée Globe TV, 'if I keep on sailing forward I’ll be there within five hours.'
But the situation that has plagued all week has not been a joke. Sixth-placed Mike Golding (Gamesa), who has cut Le Cam’s lead to 60 miles, half-laugh after saying: 'We’re in trade winds and the wind is blowing is perfectly out of where we want to go.' Northerlies when you are heading north were not planned for. 'I’ve had several doldrums in this race,' he said. He was averaging 10.1 knots to the east, with Javier Sansó (Acciona 100% EcoPowered) averaging 10.4, 159 miles behind him in seventh. Behind them in the ranking, but far to the west, Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud), and Arnaud Bossières (Akena Verandas) have ended up in almost as strange a position as Le Cam.
Dominique Wavre, Mirabaud - 2012 Vendee Globe - © Dominique Wavre
Alex Thomson (GBR, Hugo Boss): I’m looking forward to getting into the northern hemisphere, I’ve got about 180 miles to go and I’ll be catching probably for a little while so that’s good. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the North Atlantic. I’ve taken some pain over the last four or five days. I made some gains off the semi-permanent front off of Rio, but since then I’ve been bleeding. At some point it was going to stop and now it seems to be good. So, I feel positive, optimistic for the future and if I get a lucky break up the North Atlantic maybe there’s a podium place still available. I’ve had squally weather pretty much all the ways along (the coast) apart from yesterday. I going to be crossing the doldrums tomorrow afternoon and to me it doesn’t look like it’s going to be too bad and the area should be fairly small. There’s always the possibility, when we come out of the doldrums I’m going to be further west, hopefully I’ll have slightly more lifted breeze but on the other hand the guys to the east have better reliability. At the moment it looks like all of us are going to be crossing the Azores high pretty much north of where we are, I don’t think there’s going to be an eastern route right now, so those guys will have the ability to come down to me. So, it really does depend on whether the high pressure holds the boats in front up and allows me to get to them, that’s going to be the deciding factor.
Javier Sanso (ESP, ACCIONA 100% EcoPowered): Well, I’m now in the Saint Helena anti-cyclone, sailing upwind on a port tack and with 400 miles ahead of me before tacking for the first of many times; which I will have to do before being able to directly cross the equator. I’m happy with where I’m positioned and also to finally be seventh overall which of course can be improved, but it won’t be an easy task.
Jean Le Cam (FRA, SynerCiel): As the Carnival is coming soon I’m going to stop at Rio... If I keep on sailing forward I’ll be there within five hours. Last night was difficult with strong winds but it’s getting better. The sea is getting smoother, now it’s nice. Last night I saw six gas platforms which weren’t on the files... I’m giving you the info! So the situation is not easy and even more when the files are not correct. So you have to guess! This way up the Atlantic is really hard. I think at the moment people needs to dream and I‘m glad to be useful.
Arnaud Boissières (FRA, Akena Vérandas): I’m not sailing very fast. I have to wait. We are off the Brazilian coast, it’s hot and so are the girls...As for the weather conditions, it’s quite a mess. The sky is between blue and black. The sea changes all the time. It’s hard, but I remain focus, I know it will get better.
Arnaud Boissieres, Akena Verandas - 2012 Vendee Globe - © Arnaud Boissières / Akena Vérandas
Dominic Wavre (FRA, Mirabaud): The regatta within our group of five is very intense and exciting, but to be honest we cannot say we are great strategists: the conditions are completely unstable and unpredictable, and do not correspond to the weather forecasts. As a result, I feel more like a toy in this wind.
Mike Golding (GBR, Gamesa): I am alright, it’s just a bit of slog. We’re in trade winds and the wind is blowing is perfectly out of where we want to go (laughs - e.g. it’s a northerly on his nose). So. I’m just sticking with the original plan and trying to just deal with the St Helena high, trying to get on the right side of the right hand shift. I’ve had several doldrums in this race, yes, it’s a frustrating period because the boat is being sailed pretty hard, it’s quite unusual in the Vendée to be going upwind fully ballasted with the boat working very hard indeed but for so little return in terms of the VMG. I’m having problems with comms (communications) at the moment, they’re pretty poor, I look at satellite imagery (as well as the weather files) but I wouldn’t claim to be a meteorologist. The files we get from Europe and the US are models that have been worked on over many years by people much more qualified than me. When I see an error in a file, I can modify it if the wind you’re experiencing isn’t quite what you’re seeing on the file and that something that helps you establish better routing.
Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA, Banque Populaire): I’m getting out of the Doldrums. I’m sailing front wind now, I’m Ok. Last night there were some clouds, with rain and some time no wind. But in the big picture I did well. I hope I be able to use this great crossing for the finish. Everything remains possible, the game is open. I’ll try to find the opportunities to come back on François. Maybe I won’t be able to come back now, but in a few days I might be able to do something. The journey is still long and there are many dangers on our way to Les Sables d’Olonne.We have a nice sail when there is no wind (Code 0), I used it for my Doldrums crossing. It worked well...I have a few strategies in mind, especially with the Azores anticyclone. I’ll do my best to come back. The first objective is completed (getting closer to François) now the next one to fight for the win. (About his partnership with Banque Populaire): It’s great news. In the years to come I’ll have the opportunities to sail on the Route du Rhum.
Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA, Virbac-Paprec 3): Yesterday was a good day. I'm happy to have completed two major repairs: the consolidation of the forestay on the bridge (damaged on January 7), and the release and replacement of the second halyard on the mast (blocked since December 22). Virbac-Paprec 3 is now operational. So now I can use the solent takes to the repair of the forestay and send all my front sails takes to the replacement of the halyard. These are good news for the rest of the race. There are opportunities. I am now closer from Les Sables d'Olonne than the Cape Horn. It's nice being in the top three as the arrival approaches. I think this is the last time I will pass the equator single-handed. What a moment!
Vendee Globe website
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by Vendee Globe - 7:25 PM Thu 17 Jan 2013 GMT
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2012 Vendee Globe
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