Expected at Cape Horn on the first day of 2013 Tuesday January 1st, the two Vendée Globe leaders Francois Gabart and Armel Le Cléac’h might be able to look forward to relatively clement, settled weather for their passage but they will have another critical variable set to challenge them as they round the notorious point. Ice has been monitored well to the north and east of Drake’s Passage for much of December.
When the leaders are due to round there are expected to be 15 relatively small icebergs to the south and east of Cape Horn at a radius of about 50 miles.
The ice is reckoned to be drifting away at a rate of around 20 miles per day which, suggests Race Director Denis Horeau, means the problem is most serious for the first boats.
Horeau told Vendée Globe LIVE today:
“ CLS our partners have seen by satellite that there is ice drifting in the south and east of Cape Horn, but of course the problem is that the satellites can only see some of the ice, not all of it. So far we can only see ice by satellite which is at least 100 metres long. And so long as we know that there is ice of 100 metres long approximately then you can be sure that there will be some smaller bergs around. So that is our problem.”
“The choice is now with the skippers. We will inform them every day of the situation, what we can see with the satellites and what the drift is expected to be. So we will provide them with a report every day in order that they can understand the situation as well as we can see it.”
The bergs which are seen by the satellites are between 100m and 400m long, but the problem for the skippers is the smaller sections which almost certainly exist, some of which will be semi-submerged.
By comparison there were significant levels of ice in the East Pacific during the last edition in 2008-9, much of it well before the longitude of Cape Horn. Then, the Pacific East gate was moved more than 400 miles to the north to keep the fleet as clear of danger as possible.
The two leaders are back in close contact with one another. After Francois Gabart took the lead again this morning, the 19th time that the baton has been exchanged between the Macif and Banque Populaire, the gap opened to six miles during the day but on the 1500hrs UTC ranking Gabart is only one mile ahead. The duration and closeness of their dual is on this race is largely unprecedented in solo ocean racing and there is an expectation that they can pass Cape Horn a matter of tens of minutes apart. What is perhaps most amazing is that the duo have had no significant, known breakdowns.
Jean-Pierre Dick, in third is in a much better place than he was on Christmas Eve. He will now feel much more in touch with the two leaders, who sail VPLP-Verdier designs which are very similar to his Virbac-Paprec 3. At 371 miles behind Macif this afternoon, JP should pass Cape Horn less than 24 hours behind. The gains which he has made over the last few days have not just stabilised but in fact he has lost some 30 miles now that Gabart and Le Cléac’h are back up making between 17 and 19kts this afternoon after their 48 hours slow down.
Thomson still finding it tough
All of the top trio are eagerly anticipating their safe passage from the Big South into the Atlantic. But all will have already previewed the weather expected in the South Atlantic and it is not looking very easy with a succession of low pressure systems set to spin off the South American continent.
That said the desire to get clear of the Pacific is equally shared further back down the fleet. Alex Thomson from Hugo Boss, in fourth at 895 miles behind the leader reported again how tough he is finding the conditions with big seas, and very gusty winds:
"I am very, very tired. I can not sleep, the wind is too unstable, I have to trim the time, "he wrote this morning. And the same level of fatigue and stress is maybe getting to Jean Le Cam who also hade 30 knots and was under pressure during the Vendée Globe LIVE communication which he had to abandon temporarily to keep SynerCiel upright:
“It is hard, hard, hard.” Said Le Cam.
On this 49th day of racing, only Mike Golding (Gamesa) and Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud) have been in relatively comfortable conditions, on the southern edge of an anticyclone.
Denis Horeau, Race Director, Vendée Globe: “CLS our partner have seen by satellite that there is ice drifting in the south and east of Cape Horn, but of course the problem is that the satellites can only see some of the ice and not all of it. So far we can only see by satellite ice which is at least 100 metres long. And so long as we know that there is ice of 100 metres long approximately then you can be sure that there will be some smaller bergs around. So that is our problem.”
“ The choice is now with the skippers. We will inform them every day of the situation, what we can see with the satellites and what the drift is expected to be. So we will provide them with a report every day in order that they can understand the situation as well as we can see it. The problem is that we cant know the situation exactly.”
“ Putting an ice gate closer to the Cape could only be to the south if it but the ice is drifting to the east at a rate of something like 20 miles per day. So we think most will have passed to the East by the time the majority of skipper are arriving. We hope this problem will only be for the first boats. Putting a gate positioned for the first boats would be unfair for the others. So that is not the way to do it. We make the rules on the Vendée Globe for all the boats.”
“ We had ice in past editions. We have not had this amount of ice at Cape Horn before, we had ice in 2008, but it was to the west of Cape Horn and so we lifted the Pacific East gate north by 400 miles to the north. We had a lot of ice in the east of the Pacific this time. It is difficult to say if it is related to the warming of the planet, but what we do know is that we can see more than before.”
Alex Thomson, GBR, Hugo Boss “ The wind has been consistently strong, with regular gusts up to 40 knots in the last 12 hours. I am very tired, with very little opportunity to get any sleep when the conditions are so gusty as I need be able to ease and trim the sails quickly in reaction to the wind. The weather is due to stay like this all the way to the Pacific East gate, which is the final ice gate of the race, and the also the final marker before rounding the Horn which should happen within the next week.”
Mike Golding, GBR, Gamesa “ It is the broader fatigue which starts to grind in around this time, we have been working at the boat for 7 weeks, they are very heavy boats and there is a lot of work to do so consequently fatigue is your enemy. It is a very difficult one to judge really. I am not talking about sleep, but a general running down of your system, which takes a lot more than a sleep to recover. I think it is really important to keep sleeping well, maintaing a steady rhythm with your body and hopefully once you get back in the Atlantic, there is a sort of relief of being on the way home, but right now, it is a tough time.
“ I am pretty sick of freeze dried food right now! I was pretty sick the first time I had it! I still have a reasonable selection, but you never have enough, enough treats and all the nice things seem to disappear. I have quite an unregulated system which is probably bad as you end up eating all the nice things. Right now you are taking stock of what you have to take you to the end and what you don't have enough of and how you spread it out.”