They call him the jackal for a reason and Armel Cléac’h showed why on Thursday night by hunting down the golden boy, Francois Gabart. At the final ranking of the day Cléac’h was just two miles behind Gabart and set to pass him shortly.
Gabart, who has led since the night of the start day on Saturday, has been forced to bear almost due west as he stalled this afternoon. The furthest east of the lead group, Gabart hit a high pressure ridge that has not affected those behind him and was making just 5.6 knots (mostly only to reposition) compared to Cléac’h’s 14.3. Cléac’h has won back 48 miles in the last eight hours.
But Cléac’h, the favourite to win the race, is himself being hunted. Bernard Stamm, who has traded second place with Cléac’h six times in the last two days as they almost match-raced down the same route, was just six miles further back.
The other winner in the last four hours has been Alex Thomson, who has moved into fourth place, following almost directly in the wake of the Cléac’h and Stamm. But he only leads Vincent Riou, the furthest west, by 0.1 miles and Jean-Pierre Dick, between them, by 5.7 miles. Dick has had the best speed, 16.3 knots, in the fleet in the last hour.
Just over 140 miles behind the leader, in 8th and 9th, place, Mike Golding passed Jean Le Cam in their own private battle further east, just to the west of the Canary Islands.
In their battle in the middle of the fleet, Sam Davies took back 13th place from Tanguy De Lamotte, who has sailed due west as the south westerly winds and a messy sea state buffeted him. He is looking for the stronger north west winds forecast for tomorrow. Bertrand de Broc, much further west, continued to close on them.