The extraordinary step up in performance of the new generation of foiling IMOCA monohulls at the front of the Vendee Globe is evident today as Alex Thomson added more miles to his lead in reaching conditions in which his Hugo Boss clearly excels.
Even the British skipper, who has lead the solo round the world race since last Saturday night, admitted today he, himself, is deeply impressed at the speed of his VPLP-Verdier design in the 16 to 19kts trade winds in which he has been fast reaching in today, some 300 miles east of Salvador de Bahia. "I am just looking at the statistics. It is pretty amazing to be on a boat which in 16-17kts of breeze I can average 22kts," said Thomson, today passing the point where he and Pepe Ribes lost their mast during the Barcelona World Race in January 2015 on the previous Hugo Boss. "It is good for me this. The breeze has finally come left a bit to allow Hugo Boss to lift up her skirts a little bit and go a bit faster. I am enjoying it. I have a bit more breeze for a few hours and then it will lighten up and drop a little bit before tomorrow when we will start a real fast, fast dash for three or four days towards the Cape of Good Hope.”
Between midday and mid-afternoon Thomson added 27 miles to his lead over second placed Armel Le Cleac'h to be 83 miles ahead. As the leaders seek to meet the leading edge of a fast moving low pressure, connecting off Cabo Frio, north of Rio, where a fast train ride awaits them south east towards the Cape of Good Hope, will Thomson be able to pull off The Brazilian Job? As highlighted today by both Thomson and third placed Sebastien Josse, this fast moving low will be the first, big sustained South Atlantic test for the new foiling IMOCAs and the stamina and drive of their skippers: "I guess we are going to find out how strong these boats are now." the Hugo Boss solo skipper quipped. "I think Seb is right. This is going to be the first big test for the boats. I am imagining a wind angle of about 120 to 125 degrees true, sailing in 23-26kts of wind. Depending on the wave conditions, that is what will decide how fast the boats go. To be honest if it was flat water in those wind conditions my boat could average over 30kts. With waves I don’t expect to be going much faster than I am now, to be honest 22-24kts maybe. Today I will prepare the boat a little, a re-tidy up, a re-stack, and I will try and get as much sleep as I can in the next 24 hours. I have a little composite job to do, just to make sure everything really is ready, make sure my sail plan is correct for when it comes, make sure my contingencies are ready, make sure I am fresh to be able to hit the turbo button when it arrives."
Although the passage to the Cape of Good Hope is likely to be at record pace, Thomson also pointed out today that the loads on his boat - and the others around him - are as much right now with full sail area and max load. Indeed he already indicated that proportionately smaller sail area will be required in stronger wind strengths. Replying on Vendee Globe LIVE to the questioning of French ocean racing skipper Sidney Gavignet of Oman Sail, Alex Thomson responded: “It is as demanding now (as it would be in more wind). I have been sailing in 16kts I was averaging 22kts. Now I am in 17-19 and averaging 24kts, we do not need a lot of wind. The more wind, the more waves, the slower you go."
© Y.ZeddaArmel Le Cleach, the Jackal, in a solid second place spoke this afternoon: "Alex Thomson is fast! He’s on the attack. But there’s still a long way to go. I’m sailing my own route. I’m not really watching his average speed. I’m focusing on my boat’s potential. A lot is going to happen. He had a nice crossing through the Doldrums. I’m going to have to keep up the pace not to get left behind. "
The leaders have averaged twenty knots over 24 hours (442 miles in 24h for the British skipper, Alex Thomson and 435 miles for Armel Le Cléac’h), that is unlikely to be the case when the chasing pack reach this point and so the leaders are set to extend further and further ahead. That will be tough for skippers like Jean Pierre Dick (St Michel-Virbac) who is already 575 miles behind the leaders. The past Barcelona World Race and Transat Jacques Vabre winner had some tough times in the Doldrums but was making better speed this morning and afternoon. "So now we’re in the southern part of the globe for some time. A month and a half or so. I like the fact that the water is warm, conditions are more stable. It’s nice thinking of the countries we pass, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay. Magic countries for me. The wind wasn’t that strong during the night. But it’s shifted to the left since 8 this morning, so we should be able to get more out of the boat. Looking at it positively, the boat is in good condition. But I’ve been left behind by the leaders. I hope things will change and favour us at some point,” said Dick who moved up to tenth and was averaging over 20kts at times this afternoon.
At the speed at which the situation is changing in the South Atlantic, there won’t be a second chance this weekend. More than a day behind, the trio formed by Le Cam-Ruyant-Dick will find it hard to stay with them and it is even looking tricky for Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir). For those behind this group, the trade winds are going on strike this weekend… By Sunday midday the door will be closed. The easterly air stream will have dropped below ten knots at the latitude of Salvador da Bahia and there will hardly be any clear breeze for the coming week. The next express train towards South Africa isn’t expected for a week off Cape Frio. The crack in the fleet might open up into the Grand Canyon. Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) is not far from getting out of there along with Bertrand de Broc (MACSF), but the others behind have a long wait ahead of them with boats bunching up. There are now eleven boats within 250 miles of each other between Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline) and Pieter Heerema (No Way Back), trying to get away from the tentacles of “the big, black octopus”. Patience is required with the gap set to widen between the frontrunners and the pack.
Times to the Equator
1-Alex Thomson: 9dj 07h 02’
2-Armel Le Cléac’h: 9d 09h 56’ 2h 54’ after the leader
3-Vincent Riou : 9d 10h 24’ - 3h 22’ after the leader
4-Sébastien Josse: 9d 12h 01’ - 4h 59’ after the leader
5-Paul Meilhat: 9d 12h 49’ - 5h 47’ after the leader
6-Jérémie Beyou: 9d 16h 49’ - 9h 47’ after the leader
7-Morgan Lagravière: 9d 17h 30’ - 10h 28’ after the leader
8-Yann Éliès: 10h 01h 17’ - 18h 15’ after the leader
9-Jean Le Cam: 10h 10h 17’ - 1d 03h 15’ after the leader
10-Thomas Ruyant: 10d 16h 15’ - 1d 09h 13’ after the leader
11-Jean-Pierre Dick: 10d 16h 51’ - 1d 09h 49’ after the leader