Today, the tenth day of racing in this eighth Vendée Globe could be the first major turning point in the race. There are three issues on the agenda. The leaders may make their getaway. Alex Thomson is likely to set a new reference time to the Equator this evening. Thirdly, Tanguy de Lamotte is attempting to carry out repairs in the Cape Verde Islands.
Watch out for the leaders making their getaway. If we look at the wind charts this morning, the situation is looking reassuring for the group of leaders, starting with Alex Thomson. Hugo Boss is due to sail into the Southern Hemisphere at around 2000 hrs UTC this evening, more than a day ahead of the reference time. Others can merely applaud what he has achieved. This is partly down to the exceptional conditions since the start, but also due to the improvements in technology and the ability of the skipper. Looking beyond ninth place (Jean Le Cam), they are having to scratch their heads. The reason is that the area of light winds has rapidly expanded. It now stretches out from the latitude of Dakar in Senegal to Monrovia in Liberia, or if you prefer from 15 to 6 degrees north. In other words this area of calms is affecting the majority of the boats with the exception of the first eight. It has a limited impact on Morgan Lagravière (Safran) and Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir) who are working hard to stick with the group that may make their getaway today. The frontrunners are clocking up speeds two or three times higher than those behind. In the 0800hrs UTC rankings, the leaders were sailing at around 12 knots, when between 250 and 400 miles back, they could hardly get above five knots. "Those in front are getting more wind and huge gaps could develop,” confirmed the Race Director, Jacques Caraës. Incidentally, the leaders are going to have to deal with getting around a group of Brazilian islands on their way down south: Sao Pedro and Sao Paulo, islands in the middle of the Atlantic, where scientists sometimes stay.
We have said it before, but there are races within the race in this Vendée Globe. It is true that we have only just begun, as we’ll only be starting the tenth day this afternoon. Some of the favourites and outsiders are going to have to be very patient while they wait for better days to come. That is the case for Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac), becalmed in the Doldrums along with Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent) and Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord pour le Projet Imagine). These three are between 250 and 290 miles adrift of the leader this morning… and they are not the worst affected. Kito de Pavant (Bastide Otio, 12th) is sailing around a hundred miles behind them and you have to go another hundred miles back to find Bertrand de Broc (MACSF) and Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) in 13th and 14th place, more than 460 miles from the leader. In 15th, Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline), is 530 miles behind or the equivalent of a day and a half of sailing averaging 15 knots. These gaps are set to widen throughout the day. Meanwhile, the frontrunners are in a completely different situation. Their strategy involves looking ahead to the St. Helena high and how best to get around it, while the others are sitting there with their sails flapping trying to get out of the Doldrums. If by chance the St. Helena high moves allowing them to cut across towards the tip of South Africa, the outcome will be very hard to bear for the chasing boats, but we’re not there yet.
Enda playing his Bodhran…
Yes, this is a race, but for some, there are races within the race and they are simply enjoying themselves without worrying too much about the rankings. “Obviously, I’m not going to be trying to compete with the boats out in front or those a long way behind," confirmed Jean Le Cam, "Yann Eliès got away from me, but I’m watching Thomas (Ruyant) and Jean-Pierre (Dick)". The same goes for the young Swiss sailor, Alan Roura (La Fabrique) who is pleased to be battling it out 700 or 800 miles back from the leader along with Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys), the American, Rich Wilson (Great American IV) and the Japanese skipper, Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh). A few dozen miles in front of them, there is a battle raging between the New Zealander, Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy), the Hungarian, Nandor Fa (Spirit of Hungary) and the two rookies, Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut) and Stéphane Le Diraison (La Compagnie du Lit-Boulogne Billancourt). In this section of the rankings, they know full well that the frontrunners are in a different world and there’s no point in imagining doing battle with them, even if there is a long way to go.
The same is true of the bottom third of the rankings, where the adventurers are sailing at their own pace with the aim of getting all the way around the world. Eric Bellion (COMMEUNSEULHOMME) says he is feeling much better now after broaching, which freed him from his fears. Sébastien Destremau (technoFirst-faceOcean), 28th and more than thousand miles back from the leader, is not even looking at the rankings, but with a touch of humour said last night, “I’ve taken the wheels off my boat,” meaning he had the maximum quantity of sail up on his venerable old boat. As for the Irish competitor, Enda O'Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland), in 27th position almost 900 miles behind the leader, he is thinking about how best to get through the Cape Verde Islands: “The next big decision is to whether to take a course straight through the Madeira Island or gybe and go more west where the wind angles and breeze could be a bit better - though since I will hit the island during the day, the scenic route may be more interesting. " Enda has just had his “first easy day just sailing on one tack. No gybes, reefs or sail changes. Time to contemplate, read and my musical instruments await where no one can hear me practice, let alone ever play. The bodhran player.” In the Cape Verdes, Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives Coeur) won’t hear the Irish music. But let’s hope that the luck of the Irish wafts its way to him.
Bruno Ménard / M&M