Twenty one skippers are engaged in their own personal battles with the weather on the 42nd day of the Vendée Globe solo round the world race, but in many cases it is the close rivalries which are, at the same time, additional motivation and a unique source of intense solidarity and camaraderie.
It is really these second human facets which make this four yearly non-stop race around the world so entirely singular. A relatively light attrition rate, when compared with the usual 50 per cent drop out rate - 21 from the 29 starters are still racing - means solidarity and close fights between different groups or pairs are more prevalent than previous editions.
Two storm sequences are affecting different sections of the fleet and exacting different levels of damage. Third and fourth placed Jérémie Beyou and Paul Meilhat were just six miles apart today. They are training partners from the Pole Finistère Course Au Large school as well as good friends who have now raced as a pair for 22 days of the race. Speaking regularly by VHF they have been able to compare experiences and bolster each other as they deal with the current big blow, 55kt winds and big seas, which has been a very unwelcome surprise. According to both, the weather models did not forecast such strong winds and big seas, and their struggle is likely to continue for at least 36 hours as the low is moving at the same speed as them.
SMA skipper Meilhat told Vendée LIVE yesterday: “We talked a lot after the blow. It doesn’t look like we have had any damage, but it was very hairy. We can’t get around the low, which is moving along with us. Gybing in 50 knots is not something we want to do. We’re going to have to be patient, follow the centre and hope the weather will change. The low needs to accelerate...”
Nearly 4000 miles behind, still with some 700 miles to go to Cape Leeuwin, the gang of four have shared similar experiences in a southern ocean low which has also buffeted them with gusts of 50kts and above. Both Enda O’Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland) and Alan Roura (La Fabrique) report being knocked flat by waves. Roura has damaged the mainsheet track and hoop of his IMOCA which started life as Bernard Stamm’s self-built Superbigou.
Sounding shaken the young skipper admitted this morning: “A wave as high as the first layer of spreaders swept in front of the boat and the autopilot was unable to cope, which I fully understand. 45 knots of wind, the keel on the wrong side. Then another breaker on the other side, as the seas were cross, got me back on track in a second. But with the strength of the wind on the mainsail with three reefs in, I couldn’t take up the slack on the sheet. The Harken steel eyestrap, which should take 8 tonnes broke. No more mainsail sheet and no more car. For the moment, it’s the backstay that is holding up the boom, so I can’t do anything on this tack, as there is too much wind and it is too dangerous at the stern. I have fitted a temporary sheet, which will last the day. I’m going to have to go up the mast as soon as possible to repair everything. I have a batten that is broken too.”
From some 160 miles to the north, O’Coineen, was flattened and is left – once again – questioning his own sanity. His computers are down and he is back to basics on Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland. “My most crucial issue right now is the computers and my navigation. I am back using paper charts and I have a GPS. I am trying to get my back up system working. I had a crash gybe and went on my side and did a lot of damage, nothing I can’t handle. It has been very, very cold and very, very wet. I have a confession to make. I have raided the Christmas chocolates. But this is insanity. A man on his own 500 miles south of Australia, battering 50kt winds. I’d rather be home getting the turkey ready. I feel a bit like a turkey voting for Christmas at the moment.”
At the front of the fleet Alex Thomson has largely stabilised his losses against leader Armel Le Cléac’h who is now 393 miles ahead of the British skipper with 2000 miles to sail to Cape Horn. Since the start of the race Thomson has been fastest in the fleet over the 24 hour period midday to midday on 13 days. Paul Meilhat has been quickest on six days, Le Cléac’h on four, Thomas Ruyant, Jéremie Béyou and Louis Burton all fastest of the fleet on three days of their race.
Le Diraison heading for Melbourne
French skipper Stephane Le Diraison, who was lying in 10th place in the Vendée Globe solo round with world race, is making a course for Melbourne, Australia 950 nautical miles away, after his IMOCA 60 Compagnie du Lit / Ville de Boulogne-Billancourt was dismasted yesterday evening.
The solo skipper spoke to Race Direction around midnight last night and explained that he has cut away the damaged rig and rigging, he is in fair spirits, and was working hard to set a jury rig - probably with his boom. He was working as fast as he could while he had daylight until around 0400hrs UTC. Le Diraison had told Race Direction at 1742 UTC last night that his mast had failed when he was sailing in 30-35kts NW'ly winds. This morning he is reported to motoring north for a few hours in 25.30kts of NW'ly wind. He has about 300 nautical miles to make before he can escape the usual zone of the low pressure train.
VENDÉE GLOBE HIGLIGHTS FOR WEEK 6:
Source: Vendée Globe