At 0500hrs UTC this morning French solo skipper Thomas Ruyant was less than eight miles from the shelter of New Zealand's south island coast having nursed his badly damaged IMOCA over two hundred miles, as the boat threatened to split in two at any moment. Meanwhile, favourable conditions, the chance to ride a low pressure system which catches them today, should allow the trio Jean Le Cam, Yann Eliès and Jean-Pierre Dick to earn miles back on the second and third placed duo, Jérémie Beyou and Paul Meilhat over the coming 24 hours or so.
Vendée Globe competitor Ruyant was in contact with Race Direction throughout his day (European night), expressing his increasing concern as the forecast strong winds came in slightly earlier than expected. With winds over 40kts and building seas, Ruyant explained how the lifelines around the fractured hull were constantly going slack as the damaged bow section lifted and fell on the waves. Ruyant's team have a boat heading out to meet him from Bluff with a local expert, well known IMOCA and ocean racing yacht technician Stu McLachlan on board. For the time being, Thomas Ruyant has been coping extremely well with a very stressful situation and has been averaging nine knots.
On board the other damaged boat, Stéphane Le Diraison’s Compagnie du Lit-Boulogne Billancourt, there is equal disappointment, but the situation is not as worrying. They are on their way towards Melbourne under jury rig. Stéphane managed to sail 110 miles in 24 hours and has 740 left to go. At this pace, he may well be in port on around 27th December.
Britain’s Alex Thomson is no longer losing miles to the race leader, Armel Le Cléac’h. the gap between the two has stabilised at around 500 miles with Hugo Boss on a more southerly route than Banque Populaire VIII, meaning Thomson has a shorter distance to sail. Latest simulations predict that they will now only be a day apart at the Horn with Armel passing on 23rd and Alex on 24th. They are both sailing at around 19 or 20 knots this morning. Armel Le Cléac’h has just passed another milestone having sailed two-thirds of the course for the Vendée Globe.
Jean-Pierre Dick has made the biggest gains during the night. In ideal conditions, where he can use his foils, the skipper of StMichel-Virbac sailed 460 miles over the past 24 hours and has gained a lead of 110 miles over Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir) and 140 miles over Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent). Jean-Pierre Dick has also regained ground from Paul Meilhat (SMA) and Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) who are still close to each other as they battle it out for third place. This morning Paul is in front with a lead of eight miles in this duel. It is going to be an interesting day for Jean-Pierre Dick, as Paul Meilhat and Jérémie Beyou are likely to run into an area of light winds around midday, while he will continue to benefit from a strong NW’ly wind. “I am taking advantage of some exceptional conditions ahead of the front and am hoping that will last,” explained Jean-Pierre this morning.
As for the rest of the fleet, Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée), Nandor Fa (Spirit of Hungary) and Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy) are quite isolated respectively 3400, 4100 and 4500 miles back from the leader. The Hungarian sailor, Nandor Fa is set to become the next skipper to enter the Pacific later this morning. Still in thirteenth place, Arnaud Boissières has to bring down his mainsail to change the top batten. Behind him a group of five boats are approaching the longitude of Cape Leeuwin, the SW tip of Australia with in order Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut), Alan Roura (La Fabrique), Enda O’Coineen (Kilcullen-Team Ireland), Rich Wilson (Great American IV) and Eric Bellion (CommeUnSeulHomme). At the rear, the final four are currently heading towards the north. Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) is dealing with a transition zone, while Didac Costa (One Planet One Ocean), Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys) and Sébastien Destremau (TechnoFirst-faceOcean) are trying to get away from a nasty low. “I don’t want to find myself in winds averaging fifty knots and gusts up to 60,” confirmed Romain Attanasio. “I’ll be going up to 38° S, with the worst of the weather down at 42°S. I’ll gybe this evening.”
Didac Costa (One Planet, One Ocean): “The staysail was split on the foot yesterday morning It is repairable, I could do it and hoist it again quickly but it does not seem to be the right option. This staysail already has one voyage around the world under its belt and the fabric is quite deteriorated. I can not take the risk of losing it now, with more than half a race still to go. I prefer to do a good repair calmly and count on it when I need it most. Instead it, I hoisted the storm sail, so I'm going slower than expected. When you lose a sail and replace it with another one that is not suitable for those conditions, you logically subject it to a greater wear ... With old sails that have been used before, it could mean that you lose all your sail options, hence my choice. I have made the decision not to force the boat in the coming days and gain some north to avoid the worst part of a storm that should reach us in a couple of days. I ‘m not forgetting that the goal is to return to Les Sables with the boat in one piece. It is time to slow down now. I'll speed up again later…”
Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline): “I have noticed that practically each week I have had to bring all my sail down. IMOCAs are boats with a large square top to the sail and it’s always complicated lowering it. I have to remove a car or rather take it off the track to get to a broken batten and change it. It isn’t easy getting it down and getting it back up in 25-30 knots of wind and requires patience and physical stamina and causes frustration at times. So it takes around two hours.”
Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac): “Conditions are good with the wind on the beam. It’s dull, raining and the boat is slamming a lot, but the good thing is the boat is fast and on a good route, which is the most important thing as this is a race after all. It’s not going to last forever, as the front will overtake me and I’ll be sailing downwind like my friends. That will mean a lot more manoeuvres. I hope to get lucky to narrow the gap. At the moment it is around 600 miles to those ahead. In the South Atlantic, there will be possibilities. My foils are really useful at the moment. I’m fully using them as I’m making the most of these exceptional conditions. In the end my option via Tasmania wasn’t so crazy.”
Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys): "I have 25 knots of wind, which means it’s like being on holiday after three days in 40-45 knots of wind. I was at the end of my tether. It was tough. I’m moving towards the north as there is a storm arriving and don’t want to see it. On the charts they are talking about fifty knots, which probably means 65 knots and severe gusts. I’ll be going up to 38°S with the worst weather down at 42°S. I’ll go around the north of the low. I have another 200 miles further north to go. Then, I’ll gybe and the low will pass to my south. Yesterday I had 45 knots, but it wasn’t so much the wind as the sea state. Nasty cross seas with waves slamming into us from everywhere. You can hardly move around the boat and it’s exhausting. There comes a point, when you just want it to stop.”