The group of seven frontrunners at the head of the Vendee Globe fleet could soon become four. Until now Vincent Riou on PRB, Paul Meilhat on SMA and Jérémie Beyou on Maître CoQ have been clinging to the leading four of Alex Thomson, Seb Josse, Armel Le Cléac'h and Morgan Lagravière. But overnight the speeds of the back three, all slightly north of the pacesetters, have slowly dropped after the fast-moving low pressure system they had been riding passed over them.
At the latest ranking update at 0500 UTC Riou was down to 15.9 knots with Beyou suffering further at 12.5 knots. The same can't be said for Thomson's Hugo Boss, still charging along at 20 knots while second-placed Edmond de Rothschild skipper Josse is quicker still at 20.4 knots, both in as much as 40 knots of wind from the north. "The front finally passed over unfortunately as now I’m left with less wind,” explained SMA skipper Meilhat. “It’s still blowing at 25 knots, but it is stable. I am expecting those in front to extend their lead over the next 24 hours. I have to avoid getting stuck in the light winds behind the front. Tomorrow is going to be crucial, even if everybody is going to get caught by this front. We’ve had fairly high speeds for two or three days, which meant we made the break and now I hope we won’t be too far away from the group out in front.”
The contrast in speed could mean that the leading four boats wave goodbye to any competition in the near future from the chasing three. But the problems in the front group are nothing compared to those of the sailors stuck in the St Helena High. Jean Le Cam, Jean Pierre Dick and Thomas Ruyant have seen their speeds plummet to just a couple of knots as they languish in light winds, powerless to do anything to stop the front group escaping. The only skippers outside of the front seven to make more than 10 knots of boat speed this morning are those towards the tail end of the fleet, still in the south easterly trades.
Will Carson / M&M