Alex Thomson was expected to lead the Vendée Globe across the Equator during the early evening UTC, the first British skipper ever to lead the solo non-stop around the world race into the Southern Hemisphere. The last British skipper to lead the race was Mike Golding in December 2008. Golding led for a few hours before his mast was felled by a rogue gust, then forced to retire into Fremantle, Australia over 1200 miles away.
Thomson’s lead on Hugo Boss was steady at around 58 miles as he led the French tandem of Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII) and Vincent Riou (PRB) who this afternoon were still sailing side by side allowing Riou to film Le Cleac’h just a couple of hundred metres behind him.
Thomson said today he expected to move into stronger, more lifted breezes and the leaders to be able to extend away from the chasing pack which is suffering a more problematic passage through the zone of unsettled squalls and light, sticky airs. When he spoke on Vendée Live today Thomson said he previews a fast, reaching passage towards the Cape of Good Hope. But first a new reference benchmark for Les Sables d’Olonne to the Equator seemed likely to be set by Thomson on Hugo Boss at nine days and around eight or nine hours, comparing favourably with Jean Le Cam’s 10 days and 11 hours passage set in 2004-5 on his Bonduelle. “The boat seems good and it seems like we will soon be into some stronger winds, it will free us up and we will start to go pretty fast I think. The routing I am seeing down to the Cape of Good Hope is quite quick. We are getting pretty close to the Cape in 10 days time. So that is very positive.”
Speaking of the hydrofoiling daggerboard system on Hugo Boss he said: “I think this foil is good in the light, no problem. I think our weakness is against conventional boards upwind, whether it is light, medium or maybe in the very strong stuff it might not be so much, that is where our weakness is. But our weakness gets less as we get freer. At the moment we are in quite similar breeze. The GRIB files show they should be a little more lifted, they might have a better angle. I think by the time I get to the Equator I see the wind filling in for me first and so it should be pretty good.”
He added: “I feel pretty confident when this boat is going fast. I don't feel any reason not to be. We had a little snippet of what this boat can do in the New York-Vendee and then since then I have said before we have made leaps and bounds performance wise. But even so I think we are still very underdeveloped compared with a lot of these boats. Considering we were upside down a year ago, followed by six months in the shed, we have not had the time these other guys have had.”
Tanguy bringing his boat home
The French skipper had to make a tough decision this Tuesday afternoon in Mindelo in the Cabo Verde Islands after a full evaluation of the damage to his masthead and possible solutions which might have allowed him to continue to race. De Lamotte will continue with the adventure, refusing to throw in the towel. Instead he will head north, back to France, carrying on in the spirit of the race, solo and unassisted to make it back home. Tanguy de Lamotte: “I’m not retiring. The damage is too important to imagine continuing to sail around the world, but it is not serious enough to stop me from bringing my boat home. I’m taking her back to Les Sables d’Olonne, withou having been all the way, but I shall be continuing my fight for the Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque charity. That’s the way it goes. You have to accept these things. I think I have been very lucky. The mast could have broken and injured me.”
De Lamotte, who finished 10th in the last Vendée Globe, was lying in 10th place in the 29 boat fleet on Saturday afternoon – 6 days into the race – when he told his shore team that the top of his mast had come away and was hanging near the deck by the halyards. He had been sailing Initiatives Coeur in 20kts NE’ly breezes when the damage occurred at around 1515hrs UTC. He limped to Mindelo where he arrived Monday afternoon. A full assessment was made today after De Lamotte climbed the mast head. With no masthead sheave box unit and the top of the carbon mast tube effectively open, the structural integrity of the mast tip was considerably compromised.
In comparison to the 2012-13 edition the attrition rate is low, thanks in part to the relatively benign weather over the first week. In the last edition, within the first two weeks of racing seven skippers had to abandon. Marc Guillemot had to retire back to Les Sables d’Olonne with keel damage just four hours and 45 minutes of the race. Kito de Pavant (Groupe Bel) hit a trawler to the east of the Azores. Sam Davies (Saveol) was dismasted off Madeira. Jéremie Beyou (Maitre CoQ) suffered a keel ram failure before the Cabo Verde Islands. Then the Polish skipper Zbigniew Gutowski (Energa) had to retire with electrical issues and Vincent Riou (PRB) hit an unmarked, floating buoy off the Brazilian coast and holed his boat, also damaging his outrigger support.
The Doldrums are expanding and becoming increasingly messy, somewhat closing the doors on the chasing pack. Jean-Pierre Dick, one of the pre-race favourites, was becalmed for some hours in the Doldrums on his St. Michel-Virbac, along with Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord pour le projet Imagine) and Jean Le Cam (Finistere Mer Vent). They are not the worst affected at 250-290 miles behind the leaders. Kito de Pavant (Bastide Otio) is more than 100 miles behind them and then 100 miles behind him are Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) and Bertrand de Broc (MACSF).
Conrad Colman (USA/NZL) Foresight Natural Energy: “All is going well. It is very much a course of learning by doing. That is one of the advantages of ocean racing is that you have plenty of time to sort things out, to learn and try different scenarios. So I have been trying different sail set ups, different ways of trimming. The boat is good upwind and downwind, reaching is not so good. It is going to be tricky after the Doldrums. With a good Doldrums passage I can stay ahead of the group behind me. I think reaching out of the Doldrums I can lose miles but at the moment. Alex made a great passage through the Doldrums, the weather looks pretty stable for my passage too. I hope I can make it through what, for me, is one of the most difficult parts of the race.”
Romain Attanasio, Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys: “The Doldrums are complicated, but I can’t wait to get there. I have divided the race up into stages, otherwise it is mind-blowing. The first hurdle is the Doldrums. I can’t wait to get across and complete this first part of the race. It was Catherine Chabaud who advised me to think in stages like that. After there is the Equator, the Cape of Good Hope, the Indian and then it’s by ocean. The Japanese guy is just in front of me, so he’s my pacemaker.”
Kito de Pavant (Bastide Otio): “The Doldrums are starting early. The wind suddenly dropped at 10°N in a squall, which was a foretaste of the difficult day ahead aboard Bastide Otio. I had planned to get some sleep during the night before reaching this area, but the opposite happened...
What wind there is is unstable and thunderstorms are threatening off to the west. This means lots of manoeuvres, even if I’m trying to keep them to a minimum.”
Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent): "This is an exceptional Vendée Globe with practically no damage. The fleet is spread right out, but we knew that would happen before the start. Hugo Boss is set to smash my reference time to the Equator set back in 2004. It was about time somebody did. Those out in front will get away from us. Hugo Boss is impressive, making it through the Doldrums without even seeing them.”
Yann Eliès (Quéginer Espoir Leucémie): “I think we’re all losers here if we look at Alex Thomson. If we look at the fleet, I am not doing too badly. Alex didn’t get held up at all. He was hardly ever below ten knots. When he is in the trade winds and at the helm, he will be able to double his lead. He is the big winner in the Doldrums.”