Armel Le Cleac'h should today smash the race record for the passage from Les Sables d'Olonne to Cape Leeuwin by somewhere around five and a half days. After adding to his lead over Alex Thomson last night, extending out to over 100 miles during a period of dificult, lighter breezes and awkward seas, the skipper of Banque Populaire VIII was 52 miles from the longitude of the second of the non stop solo round the world race's great capes at 0630TU this morning. The mark set on 15th December 2012 by Francois Gabart is 34 days 10 hours 30 minutes.
The testing, unsettled breezes have been making it difficult to go faster for the leaders, Le Cleac'h and Briton Thomson on Hugo Boss. Since midday yesterday five more skippers have entered the Indian Ocean passing the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope and Agulhas: Nandor Fa (Spirit of Hungary), Stéphane Le Diraison (Compagnie du Lit-Boulogne Bilancourt), Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline), Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut) and Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy). This tightly grouped pack is to the south of the tip of Africa when the leading duo of the Vendee Globe are at the longitude of the south west of Australia. This morning the fastest skippers have been Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel Virbac) and Jean Le Cam (Finistere Mer Vent) making over twenty knots a times. Others in the South Indian Ocean have been forced to reduce sail to deal with the heavy weather.
In third place this morning Sébastien Josse, six hundred miles behind his French compatriot Le Cléac'h said: "We’re getting into the real business now with lows we haven’t seen before, but this is the round the world race, the Vendée Globe!" The skipper of Edmond de Rothschild is the closest to a deep low and has been sailing in more than 40 knots of wind with a four metre swell. With the exception of the two tail-enders, practically the whole fleet is now into the low pressure train rhythm of the Southern Ocean, alternating lows and zones of high pressure with strong winds and then calms before another low pressure front catches them.
Correspondingly skippers have been moving been performance mode and protection mode in order to take care of the boat and the equipment. Jérémie Beyou now has his mainsail operational again after replacing the hook and track car at the top of his mainsail track on Maître CoQ. Paul Meilhat (SMA) prudently headed some way north to let the worst of the storm go by to his south. Yann Eliès (Quéguiner Leucémie Espoir) slowed down for the same reason.
At the start of this fifth week of racing it is the changing moods and challenges of the Roaring Forties which dictate strategy. François Gabart, the winner of the last edition of the Vendée Globe, said yesterday "In the lows, you stay inside your boat and you note down what is starting to suffer from wear and tear. In the transition zone, when it starts to calm slightly, you do your little DIY jobs and you get ready for the next big blow."
Sébastien Josse, (Edmond de Rothschild): "Today I have to deal with the low as best I can, while paying attention not to stray into the exclusion zone. There’s no way out, so we have to slip in between the two. The wind will be getting up and I’ll have to reduce the sail and gybe. Last night I had forty knots and had three reefs in and the small J3. Now I have about thirty knots again. Last night I was reaching and now I’m going to get forty knots downwind. So the worst is yet to come but in a different direction. I take each day as it comes and am not aiming for the moon. We can see that there is a filtering process going on with the Indian Ocean leading to damage occurring. Apart from my rudder problem off the Cape of Good Hope, I haven’t had any real problems, just sheets that are getting worn, but nothing very serious.”
Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline): “It was a busy day. It all began with the 0330 radio session. I told them about my problems from the day before. My mainsail car had come way from the mast. The part was broken, but I had a spare, which meant bringing down the mainsail. I got the tools ready and with the seas calming carried out some manoeuvres. Two hours of hard work and the mainsail is back up. It looks like the mast track hasn’t suffered. We lost some time, nut that’s fine. It’s a huge relief. I got going again doing about ten knots and we hit a whale. My rudder kicked up. It also hit the keel but it’s OK. The trailing edge of the rudder is a bit damaged.”