The Vendée Globe is not the same thing all the time. They have to put up with light airs and fight back to gain an advantage in stronger winds, which is exactly what the leader Armel Le Cléac’h and a few others are doing this morning.
Putting their foot down, stoking up the engine, cracking the whip…These are expressions sometimes used to describe what the sailors are doing, but in reality this job is quite different. It’s a question of managing the situation. When things are tricky or easy. It is even the key to succeeding or failing. Over 80 days of racing, you have to know how to take care of the sailor and the boat (which is no easy task at 20 knots in the deafening IMOCAs). They have to identify any work that has to be done at the best time they can find. They have to avoid pushing the man or the boat too hard. They also need to make the most of their advantages when the opportunity arises. There is no point in taking unnecessary risks.
That is exactly what Armel Le Cléac’h is doing and not just since yesterday evening. A few days ago, when he was behind Alex Thomson, he told us, “I’m not going to wear myself out just to be ahead at the Cape of Good Hope.” A wise choice by the Jackal, the skipper of Banque Populaire VIII, who was waiting for his time to come. The first opportunity arose yesterday, when his route at 110 degrees from the wind and the sea state, relatively calm for the Indian Ocean, allowed him to assert himself. Like a good chess player, Armel Le Cléac’h grabbed the advantage. He knows that Hugo Boss has a damaged starboard foil. He knows that at this angle and wind strength, he can make the most of the new technology. He is sailing two knots faster than Alex Thomson, sometimes even three in certain stretches. He is sending a clear message to his opponent: “My dear opponent, when the wind comes around to the left of our boats and when the seas allow, I’m going to be faster than you!” For Alex Thomson, this assertion must be hard to bear. The British sailor can only hope that the route they follow is as much as possible on the starboard tack, so he can use his intact port foil. When the wind comes around to the right, Hugo Boss will be back on equal footing with Banque Populaire VIII, and is probably faster. We should not believe that this is all done and dusted. On Thursday a low from Madagascar will be blocking their path and will probably mean they have to gybe. ‘Wait and see’ is what Alex will be telling himself.
All fast in the Top Ten
Sébastien Josse is managing things well too. After a tricky weekend, he is still in third place, but now 500 miles behind the two leaders with whom he sailed practically to the Cape of Good Hope. Over the past few hours, he has been back up to speed. The slowdown is behind him and he has been busy getting into a good position carrying out a lot of manoeuvres, to hop onto the next train heading east. He carried out a thorough check of his boat. He told us during the night that he was not going to take any unnecessary risks just to grab a few miles back. It is better to keep up the pace and wait for a good opportunity. If they get held up at the front, there may be an opportunity for him to bounce back. But not for the moment.
The same is true for the boats between 4th and 6th place - Jérémie Beyou, Paul Meilhat and Yann Eliès – who are aware they have to adapt their efforts to the moment. In 4th place (the leader is between 800 and 1100 miles ahead of this group) these three members of the Finistère Offshore Training Centre in Brittany are also managing the situation. They are currently clocking up the best average speeds, doing better than Alex Thomson and just behind Armel le Cléac'h. They are well aware that if they manage to complete the Vendée Globe (which none of them have ever done, as Paul is a rookie and Jérémie and Yann were forced to retire before), they will be well placed in the rankings and even very well placed. They know too that while the race has been fast, there is still two thirds of the course left to sail, so anything can still happen to favour them or to harm their position. On the starboard tack on the back of a low, the group formed by Dick-Ruyant-Le Cam (and we could add Kito de Pavant) are also on the attack. Jean-Pierre Dick’s foiler StMichel Virbac is the fastest in the group this morning. Their positions vary in terms of latitude, with Jean Le Cam the furthest south in the Roaring Forties, while Thomas Ruyant is two degrees further north and Jean-Pierre Dick is in the middle in front of these two trajectories. Kito de Pavant managed to slide under the St. Helena high and should be able to sail along the limit to the Antarctic Exclusion Zone, even if the Cape of Good Hope is still a thousand miles ahead.
Light conditions in the pack
The ten frontrunners are dealing with strong winds, sailing on smooth trajectories at high speeds. But from eleventh place back, it is a very different pace and atmosphere. They are dealing with light conditions. At the latitude of Porto Alegre, they are struggling in light winds sometimes down to below six knots. “I’m fed up with the highs,” said Conrad Colman, who is going to have to wait at least a day and a half to be able to surf the Southern Ocean, some 300 miles lower down on the charts. That is a huge distance, when you’re sailing at between five and eight knots. Between 3000 and 3300 miles back from the leader, this slowdown concerns all the boats between eleventh and nineteenth place. The only exceptions being Alan Roura, Enda O’Coineen and Pieter Heerema. By sailing close to Brazil ahead of the pack, the Swiss, Dutch and Irish sailors have done well getting around the west of the St. Helena high. There is only a small chance that this option will work out in the end and they will have a huge distance to sail eastwards, but who knows, it may just work… They all sailed fifty miles or so more towards the finish than the other boats in the pack over the past 24 hours. One to watch.
Tanguy de Lamotte back in Les Sables d'Olonne
After Tanguy de Lamotte officially retired during the night, it is now Sébastien Destremau and Didac Costa, who are at the rear of the fleet in 24th and 25th place. The Catalan sailor has regained 80 miles from the Frenchman since yesterday and One Planet One Ocean is only 143 miles back from TechnoFirst-faceOcean. They too are having to manage the situation during this race within the race 4000 miles back from Armel Le Cléac’h.
There will be an emotional moment for Tanguy de Lamotte and all those, who want to greet him in the harbour entrance channel in Les Sables d’Olonne later this morning (around 1130 UTC). While they wait for the tide, Tanguy and his team have traced a heart in the water. Tanguy was determined to sail his boat home alone, “to respect the spirit of the Vendée Globe.” If you happen to be in the area, pop along and give him a great welcome.
In the 0800 UTC ranking this Monday 28, November 2016, Armel Le Cléac’h placed himself practically in front of Alex Thomson. Giving up 23.5 miles to do so, he is now 28 miles ahead. The two frontrunners are on the edge of the Antarctic Exclusion Zone 5 miles to their right. They have slowed slightly to around 18 knots before diving down to the Kerguelens. Sébastien Josse in third place has regained ten miles or so. Only four skippers sailed more than 400 miles over the past 24 hours and there were big differences between them with Banque Populaire VIII (Armel Le Cléac'h) sailing 478 miles, Jérémie Beyou 452, Paul Meilhat 444 and Alex Thomson 438 miles. There have been no changes in the rankings with the exception of twelfth place going to Stéphane Le Diraison, who has taken this spot from the Japanese sailor, Kojiro Shiraishi.
Lagravière and Riou safely on the dock in Cape Town
The rookie skipper of Safran was in fourth place when one of his rudders was destroyed by a floating object south west of South Africa three days ago.
The collision immediately put an end to Lagravière's dreams of completing his first Vendée Globe, a tough thing to accept given the amount of work over the last four years that went into getting him to the start line.
But the same seas that ended his race dreams delivered a gift of condolence as the 29-year-old yesterday approached Cape Town at sunrise, in the form of a pod of whales.
Lagravière said the moment lifted his spirits, which were then raised even higher when he was met on the dock by the PRB shore team waiting for fellow race retiree Vincent Riou.
“Ultimately it’s been pretty good to make landfall in Cape Town as it’s an exceptional, magical place,” he said.
"As I came in, I had whales all around the boat, together with the beautiful colours as the sun rose with the backdrop of Table Mountain. It was a nice transition from sea to land. The PRB team was there to take the lines so that what great to chat with them and have human contact.
We welcomed Vincent in last night and he has digested things now and has the same mindset as me. Obviously it affects you deeply having to retire and we’re both disappointed, but the Vendée Globe is something else and you can’t control everything, especially the unpredictable. We now have to concentrate on finding solutions and getting the boats home with good humour.”