January 21, 2013
Race time: 72 days, 03 hours
Position: 650 miles from the Azores
Ranking: 1500hrs (UTC) (1600hrs, French time)
Le Cléac’h closes on Gabart in Azores
Finish could be closer than 2004-05
Thomson cannot see route to third
Jean-Pierre Dick still looking ahead and behind
Two Britons in the top five
Di Benedetto recovering
Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) continues to close on Francois Gabart (MACIF) as they slow in the Azores high. If the race continues as forecast, always easier on paper, Gabart will cross the line first late on January 26 or in the early hours of January 27 and could be as little as six hours ahead of Le Cléac’h, which would be the closest finish in Vendée history. It would beat the finish to the 2004-05 Vendée Globe when Vincent Riou beat Jean Le Cam by 6 hours and 33 minutes.
The low-pressure system, bringing 25-30 knots westerlies, looks stable from the Bay of Biscay to the finish, but Gabart may well decide to stay close and mark Le Cléac’h rather than simply take the fastest route. It promises to be a tense finish either way and if they or Le Cléach, particularly, is delayed until the evening of January 27, a storm could make the finish one of the most torrid ever.
At the 1500 UTC ranking Le Cléac’h was 117.7 miles behind Gabart, but the gains will continue as Gabart is into the Azores high first. Gabart was still averaging 9.6 knots in the last hour, but Le Cléach was making 13 knots. The memory of the Doldrums, where Gabart’s stumbled for one of the few times in the whole race, will be fresh in the memory. Le Cléac’h managed to make up around 150 miles on Gabart and although the Azores are far more predictable, luck may still play a part.
Thomson cannot see route to third
Behind them Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) told Vendee Globe TV that he cannot see how he can catch third-placed Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) or how Dick can catch the front two. “No one is going to give up hope until the end,” Thomson said. “But as I look at the weather ahead as I’m sure he (Dick) does, both of us are going to need extraordinary events to be able to catch this significant number of miles up. I don’t really see any big opportunities ahead for me to catch Jean-Pierre and I don’t see any big opportunities for him to catch the two in front, so I think we’re looking for something extraordinary. There’s always hope, you don’t know what’s going to happen in the Vendée Globe. I’ll just try my hardest, sail my best and see what happens. My motivation is to get the boat round in under 80 days.
Asked if he would prefer to finish third or get round the world in 80 days, Thomson laughed and said:
“Well, obviously it’s more important to finish third,” he said. “I couldn’t care if I finished fourth in 80 days or third in 120 days, I’d rather finish third.”
Thomson was slightly faster than Dick, 12.4 knots to 11.9 knots, in the last hour and lies 265 miles behind.
Jean-Pierre Dick looking ahead and behind
Dick, however, was more bullish than Thomson of catching the front two. As the leading boats concertina in the Azores, he has made significant gains on Gabart, 100 miles in the last 24 hours. He is 424.9 miles behind Gabart and 307 behind Le Cléac’h.
Asked on Vendee Globe TV if he was looking ahead and behind he said: “A little bit of both (laughs),” he said laughing I’m looking in front of me for the weather of course and also to see what Francois and Armel are doing. It’s quite interesting to see what weather they will have. Why can’t I come back close to them? I’m not saying I can pass them with just speed, I need little bit of luck, they could have a problem or be in this (Azores) high for quite a while, so I could be closer to them. And of course (laughs) I’m looking behind me because Alex is a danger always. I’m trying to do my best course and arrive ahead in Les Sables d’Olonne. Third place is important to me.”
But Dick said he would not be match-racing Thomson: “I’m just trying to have my own course,” Dick said. “I want my best trajectory, I’m not trying to mark him.” If all chance of passing those in front goes, however, that may change.
Two Britons in the top five
Mike Golding (Gamesa) passed Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) again on Monday afternoon, moving into fifth place by the slenderest of margins, just 0.5 miles, as the two continue to battle upwind. The two are now on parallel tracks around 400 miles from the coast of Brazil. Golding, just 35 miles east of Le Cam, was averaging 10.3 knots in the last four hours compared to Le Cam’s 9.8 knots.
Di Benedetto recovering
After his dramatically unfortunate last three days, Alessandro Di Benedetto (Team Plastique), was recovering but in pain yesterday after breaking his rib. The medicine he has taken was easing his situation and he was back up to 11.4 knots in the last hour. On Saturday night (his morning in the South Atlantic) he went up the mast to sort out his gennaker and main halyard and had to write off his gennaker sail. On Sunday his spinnaker blew out and he had to climb the mast to retrieve the head of the sail. Then a crash in the early hours of Monday morning saw him hit in the face by the mainsheet tackle as he emerged from below. He broke a rib as he was knocked back into the cockpit and watched his small spinnaker, in its bag on the bridge, swept overboard. As well as uncomfortable manoeuvres, it leaves him with some difficult sails choices (each boat is allowed ten in their wardrobe; nine headsails plus a mainsail) with lots of downwind sailing left.
Ranking at 1600hrs (French time)
1 François Gabart (MACIF), 1806.9 miles to the finish
2 Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire), +117.7 miles to the leader
3 Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac-Paprec 3) +424.9 miles to leader
4 Alex Thomson (GBR, Hugo Boss) +689.8 miles to leader
5 Mike Golding (GBR, Gamesa) +2310.4 miles to leader
Alex Thomson (GBR, Hugo Boss):
I’m sailing a bit more upwind than I have been for the last three days so a little bit slower, I’ve got 16-20 knots of wind, it’s quite comfortable. No one is going to give up hope until the end. As I look at the weather ahead and he does, both of us are going to need extraordinary events to be able to catch this significant number of miles up. I don’t really see any big opportunities ahead for me to catch Jean-Pierre and I don’t see any big opportunities for him to catch the two in front, so I think we’re looking for something extraordinary. There’s always hope, you don’t know what’s going to happen in the Vendée Globe. At the stage of the race we’re at now, I would be very sad for anybody who has a problem. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, I’ll just try my hardest, sail my best and see what happens. My motivation is to get the boat round in under 80 days. If I can do that I’ll feel a real sense of achievement. (Laughs) Well, obviously it’s more important to finish third. I couldn’t care if I finished fourth in 80 days or third in 120 days, I’d rather finish third. Yes, it’s still a very close race and I’m sure over the next 24 hours I’ll close up a little bit as Banq Pop and MACIF slow down a bit. There’s always a chance, somebody could have a problem that slows them down. You just have to keep sailing. I have been losing miles I would say. This point of sale, tight reaching, is probably where I struggle the most against the newer boats. But saying that, being little bit more to the west, I’m sailing a slightly higher course and my VMG to the finish is a little better, so it probably doesn’t look as bad as it may be. But I’m bleeding pretty much at every sked (ranking). I think it’s important the whole way through the race to try and find time to relax and make sure you get proper rest. And as the race goes on and on your fatigue levels go up and it takes longer to recover The last three days haven’t been too physically hard for me, it’s been been hot and uncomfortable and difficult to rest, but I feel like my energy levels are pretty good and I’m looking forward to getting in the westerlies and getting back to going fast. I think this Vendée has been one of the most competitive, the two front boats have been neck-and-neck the whole way, lots of battles. The most impressive thing is the preparation of the boats and so many are still in the race.
Dominique Wavre (SUI, Mirabaud):
I’m sailing up-wind, there is a lot of raining, black sky and the sea is very aggressive. Yesterday was awful with wind coming in every direction. I didn’t sleep at all. It’s the worst South Atlantic sailing I did since I’m a sailor. Nothing to be happy about since we’ve crossed the Cape Horn. We try to navigate properly, it’s the only thing we can do to keep the faith. At night it’s very difficult because you don’t see anything. Javier and I are still fighting in very difficult conditions. Furthermore the weather forecasts are not very precise and it’s difficult to navigate.
Arnaud Boissières (FRA, Akena Verandas)
I’ve just found some more speed. I’m sailing north, alongside the Brazilian coast for the last time. I haven’t seen many things besides fishing boats and oil platform. There a little sea coming from behind, so it’s great at the moment. As for my sailing alongside the Brazilian coast, it’s complicated because there is a lot of finish boats. It’s a bit stressful. As a result, I didn’t sleep much last night. But the good news is that I managed to earn some miles.
Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA, Banque Populaire):
I’m fine. We are in the last week of the race. It’s great to know that it is almost over. The conditions are smoother and it’s not bad. The wind will be smoother in the next hours. We are getting into the anticyclone. After that things should go quicker. We’ll have to remain focused and vigilant. About my position on the west, we’ll see how it goes. François is going to slow down but will find some more wind before us. I hope I’ll manage to keep a greater speed. But it will be difficult. I’ll try to remain careful. There is no use to do crazy things just to win a few miles. The wind and the sea are going to be hard. So, we’ll see...I’m not sure there will be that many people on the water in Les Sables d’Olonne because the weather won’t be nice. The boat is doing ok, everything went well since the beginning. The boat manages to follow its journey despite the difficult conditions. Unfortunately I don’t have any magical sail for the finish. I hope my sails will hold until the end.
Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA, Virbac Paprec 3):
I’m looking in front of me for the weather of course and also to see what Francois and Armel are doing. It’s quite interesting to see what weather they will have. Why can’t I come back close to them? I’m not saying I can pass them with just speed, I need little bit of luck, they could have a problem or be in this (Azores) high for quite a while, so I could be closer to them. And of course (laughs) I’m looking behind me because Alex is a danger always. I’m trying to do my best course and arrive ahead in Les Sables d’Olonne. Third place is important to me. I’m just trying to have my own course. I want my best trajectory, I’m not trying to mark him. I think you need to relax sometimes a little bit, this is the new vision of total sailing. Thinking always about sailing, sailing is a bit dangerous, because you need to have a little bit of rest sometimes, listen to some music, read a book to extract yourself a little bit. But to be honest I have not been able to do it much (laughs), this race really been all-in. I just started one book (Un Heros - A Hero) , it’s really a pity, but I’m trying to finish it, it’s about Maurice Herzog , the relationship between the hero and his daughter. It’s a family story, it’s interesting. I’m very passionate about Alpinism and mountain climbing.