Chasing pair Armel le Cléac'h and Seb Josse began making inroads into Vendee Globe frontrunner Alex Thomson's lead last night following the news that the British skipper's yacht Hugo Boss had suffered damage to its starboard foil.
With Thomson unable to benefit from the lift and speed generated by having the foil in the water, the gap between him and Le Cléac'h, the runner up in the previous two editions of the solo non stop round the world race, shrank from 125 nautical miles to just under 90, with Josse a further 15 miles back. The trio lead a pack of seven boats that were able to hook onto a fast-moving low pressure system, catapulting them towards the Southern Ocean.
Despite his setback, at the latest position update at 0400 UTC Thomson was travelling at 20.4 knots, half a knot quicker than Le Cléac'h and more than a knot above Josse, in around 30 knots of breeze from the north. In fact over the 24 hours that preceded the report his was the quickest boat in the fleet, with an average of 20.7 knots. If he can keep his foot on the gas, Thomson may well be able to fend off the attack from from Le Cléac'h's (Banque Populaire VIII) and Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) until he is able to tack onto starboard at the Cape of Good Hope and begin foiling once more.
But the big news this morning is that Vincent Riou (PRB) has accelerated and is now managing to keep up the pace. Just ahead of a cold front associated with a Brazilian low, the five frontrunners are tightly packed, but are extending their lead over Paul Meilhat (SMA) and particularly Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ), who find themselves in different wind conditions – 25-30 knots from the north for the leaders and only around twenty for the chasing boats.
Yann Eliès (Quéginer Leucémie Espoir) has been unable to follow the same route, because of a massive change in the position of the St.Helena high. He has been attempting to remain ahead of the cold front that is propelling the leaders at high speed, but is so far back that the wind and sea conditions are very different. He is going to have to turn his route eastwards
Towards the tail end of the fleet Dutchman Pieter Heerema's No Way Back and Swiss sailor Alan Roura on La Fabrique notched up major milestones in their races by crossing the Equator overnight. That leaves just three boats still to cross into the Southern Hemisphere – Kilcullen Voyager skippered by Irishman, Enda O'Coineen, Sebastien Destramau's TechnoFirst-face Ocean and One Planet One Ocean with Spain’s Didac Costa at the helm.
Irish skipper Enda O Coineen is preparing to cross the Equator later today, but this is rather a special moment for him for another reason too, as there has been a birth in the family. He was proud to announce yesterday that he has a new grand-daughter. This news appears to have compensated for a disappointing day out on the water, as after thinking he was out of the clutches of the Doldrums, he found himself becalmed for several hours, before experiencing some very strong gusts that appeared out of nowhere.
Bertrand de Broc, forced to abandon his race yesterday due to structural damage caused by a collision off Portugal, remains anchored off Fernando de Noronha this morning. It is thought he will take his IMOCA 60 MACSF to Recife some 300 miles away on the north eastern corner of Brazil.
Yann Eliès (Quéginer Leucémie Espoir): “I’m racing against the front and have a tiny opeing to get through. I hope that this route will work out for the next four or five days. I hope that the front passing around the high won’t swallow me up. In any case, I can’t keep up the pace set by the leaders. The gaps that have developed mean that we are no longer in the same weather system. I’m in my own race now, while attempting not to get too far behind the frontrunners, when they reach the Cape of Good Hope. But I think I’ll be two days behind them. It’s going to be complicated getting closer to them. I simply can’t keep up that pace, but in my opinion, they won’t be able to stay at those speeds for long either. We’ll see what happens when the get to the Indian.”
Enda O’Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland): “I'm doing very well – I've got a very stable weather pattern. I'm looking forward to crossing the Equator and getting back in the fleet. I went very far east when I should have followed the old rule of staying west. I thought I could get back but it didn't work. But I'm on great form, my daughter delivered my granddaughter, my first granddaughter, yesterday, so that's very good news. I'm not ready to be a parent yet let alone a grandparent so I shudder at the thought! Maybe this will make me a better parent when I get back. I think the emotion is more amplified. You think an awful lot more and it's more intense because of the isolation. You think through life and all the details 24/7, and that's combined with the physical and mental activities. It is more moving – on land you've lots of other things going on so the brain doesn't have the same ability to focus. The emotional part is much deeper. Whether it's driving me harder or not I don't know - in fact, I'm being more careful to tell you the truth. Every time you get up and walk on deck you're putting yourself at risk. These boats are machines and you've got to keep them turning over.”
“I'll probably cross the Equator later on this afternoon or tonight. We'll have a little bottle of champagne and a big fat cigar [at the Equator], and I've made special arrangements to have an appointment arranged with King Neptune himself. He's going to come and visit and I'm going to ask him to bless my new granddaughter. “I wouldn't say my spirits are high but I'm on good solid form. You have to manage yourself emotionally through the ups and downs but with this extreme sailing in lovely warm trade winds I'm happy on my boat. I can't complain!”
Didac Costa (One Planet One Ocean): “After almost 10 days of sailing I have the feeling of finally being in tune with the boat and the ocean. Everything is going reasonably well on board and I'm fixing everything that goes wrong. The boat maintains her potential for now. I follow the evolution of the leaders and their performance is awesome! I play and think about how ‘Kingfisher’ would sail with foils. The temperature in these latitudes even allows me to have a nap on the deck sometimes and, although today it is cloudy and it is drizzling at times, the last few days I have enjoyed under a radiant sun and a starry night sky. The passage by Cape Verde should not be a problem. It seems that the wind, without being strong, will be stable so I have to think about the strategy in the Doldrums and decide what longitude to cross them.
“I have eaten the last piece of fruit today. From now on, there will be only freeze-dried food. Although it is not like eating with a plate on a table, the landscape around me makes up for it!”
Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII): “The wind has started to strengthen since this morning. We are not far off thirty knots of wind and the seas are getting rougher. It’s a bit like the conditions we find in the Southern Ocean. It’s a whirlwind taking us in the right direction down towards the Cape of Good Hope. We need to find the right sail configuration, and trim well not to damage everything. I’m doing around 22-23 knots at the moment on average. I am not surprised about Alex Thomson’s speeds. Without a foil, she is as fast as a boat with daggerboards and we can see the speeds achieved by our rivals without foils. The sea state is worsening and with the foils, we’re not necessarily faster. We’re going to have to wait for smoother seas to make the most of these appendages. I’m gradually gaining ground on Alex Thomson, but we need to look after the boat for the rest of the race. I set my pace based on the boat’s polars and the sea state. Occasionally some are faster than others, but the most important thing is keeping up a high average. There’s no point stretching yourself too far just to gain the lead right now.”