In the cold Southern Ocean

Photo sent from the boat Banque Populaire VIII, on November 24th, 2016 - Photo Armel Le Cleac’hPhoto envoyée depuis le bateau Banque Populaire VIII le 24 Novembre 2016 - Photo Armel Le Cleac’h

By Thursday evening, there will not merely be 6000 miles between the frontrunners and tail-enders, but a whole ocean as well. The half way mark is a day and a half ahead of the leader, but this is the first time since the first edition of the Vendée Globe that the gap between the first and last boat has been the width of an ocean at this stage of the race. In fact, Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) and Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII) took around half the time to reach the Cape of Good Hope that it took those at the rear. Eighteen days for the leaders, and thirty-four for the tail-enders…

It is true that the pair in front have benefited from almost ideal weather conditions (if we can use the word ideal in the Indian Ocean) as they today behind a moderately active low-pressure system, which is sliding down under the Ice Wall. That is why the leaders are progressing at 48°30S in a very cold SW’ly wind blowing at around twenty knots. While they will be losing the benefit of that system tonight, they will find themselves on the western edge of another low currently deepening to the south of Tasmania. This move from one system to another means they will stay in a southerly air stream, which will be strengthening all the way to New Zealand…

Even if they are not going to be able to follow it into the Furious Fifties after the final Pacific islands before Cape Horn, the pair should be able to hang onto the high following this system to get to another low developing on Saturday evening off Christchurch. It is really the dream scenario for them. Further back, the boats chasing them are likely to run into areas of high pressure developing under Australia and New Zealand.

Tough going behind…

It is hard to see how the chasing boats can narrow that gap in the coming days. Sébastien Josse still seems to be struggling with his structural problems. Edmond de Rothschild has headed north after slamming into the trough of a wave and damaging the foil. The skipper is currently on the edge of a high developing under Australia. The seas should calm down, which may allow him to carry out repairs, but the gap is now too wide and the two chasing boats, Paul Meilhat (SMA), who has overcome some technical problems encountered in the tropical low, and Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) has also found the full potential of his boat again, as we can see from his recent average speeds in excess of twenty knots, as he is propelled along by a strong NW’ly wind ahead of a front.

While things are also looking up for Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir), Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac) who has put his foort down since the gap developed off Crozet and Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent), for the pack, progress has been slower since passing the Cape of Good Hope. Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) is out there alone ahead of a cold front, but the five behind him are sailing in a transition where lighter conditions can be expected… Stéphane Le Diraison (Compagnie du Lit-Boulogne Billancourt), Nándor Fa (Spirit of Hungary), Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy), Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline) and Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut) are still grouped together in the moderate westerly air stream.

Time for repairs

In the following pack, Éric Bellion (Commeunseulhomme) has been left behind after suffering rudder damage. He is heading north to find a high off South Africa to fit his spare rudder. As for Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Étamine du Lys), he is around thirty miles south of the Cape of Good Hope in the middle of a high in calm conditions, which should enable him to work on his rudders. Finally, the Japanese sailor Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh) is now only a few miles from the harbour in Cape Town…

The whole fleet is situated between 35°S and 49°S and even if it is almost mid-Summer down there, most are experiencing bitterly cold conditions with the SW’ly winds bringing up cold air into the Indian Ocean. The Ice Wall is rightly named as the French naval vessel Nivôse coming from the Kerguelens spotted icebergs around the islands in the Southern Ocean.

Dominic Bourgeois/M&M

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