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Record-breakers?

Sailing aerial images of the IMOCA boat Newrest - Matmut, skipper Fabrice Amedeo (FRA), during training for the Vendee Globe 2016, off Belle Ile in South Brittany, on October 12, 2016 - Photo Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI / Vend

The speedos are going crazy! An average speed of 23 knots over the past few hours for the leader Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss), who has been sailing since Friday evening ahead of a cold front coming out of the Bay of Rio and who clocked up 525 miles in the past 24 hours in the last rankings. This front is associated with a deepening area of low pressure going from 1001 hPa to 971 hPa and which is moving east-south-eastwards at 25-30 knots. This movement towards the Fifties is very favorable for the frontrunners, who are speeding along at more than twenty knots. They will be able to stay on the southern edge of this low for three days. After that they will be propelled by another low coming out of Argentina this weekend, which will take over at 45°S.

A real boost

The northerly air stream will continue to flow off the island of Tristan da Cunha, strengthening to 25-30 knots in the squalls. It is this second low, which will propel the leaders to the longitude of Cape Agulhas, which marks the entry point into the Indian Ocean. This strong downwind flow should enable thm to pass under an area of high pressure with light winds, which is establishing itself mid-week under the horn of Africa. The St Helena high is very volatile over the coming days with the establishment of a second centre off Cape Frio while the first one is shrinking and moving eastwards early in the week.

It is this new situation in the South Atlantic, which will create a chasm between the frontrunners and their closest rivals, who will also have to watch the boats behind them narrow the gap. We can expect only the Magnificent Seven at the front to benefit from this kick up the rear, with an extra bonus for those right out in front: Alex Thomson is likely to increase his lead over Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII) 130 miles back and Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) 148 miles behind. Thanks to his downwind position to the south, the British sailor is benefiting from steadier and stronger winds allowing him several tenths of a knot of extra speed…

The speed differential is essentially down to this difference in positioning, as in 24 hours, Armel Le Cléac’h has lost 20 miles from the leader, just like Sébastien Josse and Morgan Lagravière (Safran), while Jérémie Beyou gave up 70 miles in one day. The skipper of Maître CoQ is just on the edge of hanging on to the high-speed Atlantic train and is expected to see two knots of speed less in the coming days. The difference between foilers and boats with straight daggerboards is clear: Vincent Riou (PRB) and Paul Meilhat (SMA) are getting the most out of their monohulls, but they cannot keep up the same pace  as the new foilers, seeing 60 to 80 miles less per day over the past three days, so the toll has been high as they approach Tristan da Cunha.

Gathering in the south

© JEAN MARIE LIOT / DPPIIn the middle of the pack, the Doldrums, which took longer and involved more work, cut them off from the frontrunners, but it also meant that the boats got back together again, as, when they crossed the Equator, there were six boats crossing in less than nine hours. Five hours behind Bertrand de Broc (MACSF) who is heading to Fernando de Noronha to carry out a check-up of his appendages (he arrived there at 0900hrs), Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline) is in front, two hours ahead of New-Zealander Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy). They are followed by Stéphane Le Diraison (Compagnie du Lit-Boulogne Billancourt), Fabrice Amedeo, the Japanese sailor Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh) and the Hungarian Nándor Fa (Spirit of Hungary). The fight is on with these boats up to sixty miles apart from east to west with the skipper of Newrest-Matmut in a favourable position windward of the others, which may well see him get by them by the end of the weekend…

The only skippers remaining in the Doldrums are Irish sailor Enda O’Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland) who should get out later today and Sébastien Destremau (TechnoFirst-faceOcean) positioned a long way east (22°W), who could shown that the unusual eastern route along the coast of Africa is still of some use for solo sailors. For the moment, he is trapped by a mass of clouds hindering his progress south. As for the Spaniard, Didac Costa (One Planet-One Ocean), he is dealing with the Cape Verde Islands today rounding them via the west in a moderate SE’ly wind, but things are not looking good ahead and he may well face the most difficult Doldrums of the fleet.

Stuck in the middle

While the pack doesn’t have too much to worry about this weekend with SE’ly trade winds backing easterly at around 15 knots, the Famous Five face a delicate situation, as they dive due south along the coast of Brazil. This is the group that will be most handicapped by the weather changes in the South Atlantic. Led by Yann Éliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir), the Brazilian bunch are currently sailing at beween 16 and 19 knots from the latitude of Recife (Kito de Pavant-Bastide Otio), to Salvador de Bahia (Jean Le Cam-Finistère Mer Vent, Jean-Pierre Dick-StMichel-Virbac, Thomas Ruyant-Le Souffle du Nord pour le projet Imagine) and Vitória (Yann Éliès).

Behind the low that is fuelling the leaders, things are going to go very quiet at the latitude of Rio de Janeiro. They will even face headwinds this evening to the east of Brazil from Cape Frio to All Saints’ Bay. The four of them will have to change course to attempt to stay in the 12-knot northerly flow on Sunday… While the triple winner of the Solitaire du Figaro has a tiny chance of making it, the upset in the weather patterns looks like being catastrophic for the other skippers. By Sunday lunchtime a high will be forming in the Bay of Rio and moving north-eastwards right in front of them. This door, which is slamming in their face offering very light and variable winds, looks set to last throughout the week.

Times to the Equator
1-Alex Thomson: 9d 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
12-Kito de Pavant: 11d 03h 59’ - 1d20h 57’ after the leader
13-Louis Burton: 11d 18h 39’ 2d 11h 37’ after the leader
14-Bertrand de Broc: 11d 20h 01’ - 2d 12h 59’ after the leader
15-Arnaud Boissières : 12d 01h 36’ -  2d 18h 34’ after the leader
16-Conrad Colman : 12d 03h 36’ -  2d 20h 34’ after the leader
17-Stéphane Le Diraison : 12d 04h 07’ - 2d 21h 05’ after the leader
18-Fabrice Amedeo : 12d 04h 40’ - 2d 21h 38’ after the leader
19-Kodiro Shiraishi : 12d 10h 12’ - 3d 03h 10’ after the leader
20-Nándor Fa : 12d 10h 25’ - 3d 03h 23’ after the leader

Dominic Bourgeois/M&M

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