Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) continues to gain on leader Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire VIII) as the leading duo climb northwards and east, but the British skipper's advance has stabilised at around 435 nautical miles behind the Vendée Globe pacemaker Le Cléac'h.
Both are now on the edge of a the same low pressure system which is travelling east. Thomson has just gybed and is in 25kts of SW'ly breeze on his less favoured foil-less port gybe. Speeds should remain fairly similar today but weather modelling suggests Le Cléac'h should be slowed again with very little wind as of later tonight. Having been 818 miles behind on Friday evening, the race is back on, and - as Thomson said in his Christmas message from Cape Horn - the passage up the south of the South Atlantic can be the most complicated stretch of the Vendée Globe so far. There is little wind for their climb back up with hardly any along the coast of South America, which means they will have to sail further east but this option is contained to the east by the Antarctic Exclusion Zone which goes north for another 550 miles or so to 40°S. Banque Populaire VIII is only just out of the Furious Fifties sailing this morning at 49° S.
In third place at 480 miles to Cape Horn, Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) does not need to worry about anything much more than going fast on his easterly course, and is expected to pass the Cape tomorrow in the middle of the day more or less two days behind Alex Thomson and four behind Armel Le Cléac’h. He has a relatively comfortable lead over Jean-Pierre Dick. JP DIck (StMichel Virbac) is fast this morning with peak speeds of around 22 knots, but StMichel-Virbac is still 840 miles behind Maître CoQ. Correspondingly Dick has extended his lead over Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir) and Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent), who are now 250 miles behind him.
Now up to seventh place everything is going well for Louis Burton, who is having a remarkable race sailing at fifteen knots in a northerly air stream along the exclusion zone, while the Hungarian, Nandor Fa (Spirit of Hungary, 8th) is in a SW’ly flow. New Zealander Conrad Colman must keep his foot down on the pedal as a big storm is arriving south of New Zealand, but it looks likely he will manage to avoid it.
With the two leaders out of the Pacific, a group of six boats is entering it, passing SE Cape, Tasmania. In the north, Arnaud Boissières has moved up a place and is now tenth, while Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut), who is only 100 miles behind him in terms of distance to the finish is “only” fifteenth. The reason for this is that 140 miles to their south, the international brigade comprising Irishman, Enda O’Coineen (Kilcullen Team Ireland, 11th), Frenchman, Eric Bellion (CommeUnSeulHomme, 12th), Swiss sailor, Alan Roura (La Fabrique, 13th) and the American, Rich Wilson (Great American IV, 14th) are sailing at slow speed. They should be able to accelerate this morning after slowing down for 48 hours sailing under reduced sail to get the timing right to avoid the worst of the big storm ahead of them.
A thousand miles or so behind them, Spaniard Didac Costa (One Planet, One Ocean, 16e) is the fastest of the four at the rear of the fleet, sailing at fifteen knots. Dutchman, Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) has lost a lot of ground sailing a long way to the north, as he struggles with his autopilot. He is still trying to find a solution to get back to real racing. Finally, Romain Attanasio, 18th, has had better days. He is sailing in more manageable conditions after three rough days, with the wind down to 25 knots instead of forty knots, but the skipper of Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys has a small technical problem. His masthead unit is not working and so his autopilot is not receiving any wind data, which for a solo sailor is a real problem. Just under 180 miles behind Romain Sébastien Destremau (TechnoFirst-faceOcean) is bringing up the rear of the fleet.
Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys): “For two days I have been having problems, because of the storm and I don’t have any masthead unit.I’m not getting any wind data. I have been struggling to repair that. I changed the cable, checked the control unit. I have three units and none of them are working, so it’s a bit hard. I have been spending my time working on that, so I haven’t had time to open my Christmas presents.”
Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent): “I got slowed in light airs, so had time to do a video and check out everything on the boat. In my dreams I’d like to complete the race in less than 80 days. It will chiefly depend on what the conditions are like when we sail back up. Conditions there can be very random. As far as the Cape of Good Hope, we can’t complain about what we’re getting. It’s straight ahead, while in front they are likely to get held up a bit. And we may make it through just as things are getting easier. Before we get there it looks like it’s going to be light airs off the cape. But we’ll see, as the forecasts change very quickly in this zone. I’ll be getting to the Horn on 31st at 21h06 (laughs).”
Didac Costa (One Planet, One Ocean): “The last front has allowed me to sail fast and on course for almost 48 hours, but the Christmas truce is over. The wind has begun to drop and a storm is forming to the south of Australia in the next few hours and will deepen quickly making difficult the path towards the East in the coming days. This area between Australia and New Zealand, in addition to being meteorologically complex due to rapidly developing phenomena, has an added difficulty: the shore to the north and the ice exclusion zone to the south limit the possibilities of "negotiating" or dodging the lows. To avoid sailing upwind -the course that these boats least like- I am trying to go as far south as possible and maybe I will end up waiting for the new favourable wind. I repaired the damage in the J3 some days ago, but after a full check I detected principles of delamination in several areas of the sail. I decided to repair it properly before hoisting it again. So far with the boat’s movement it has been impossible to do this job and I will try to do it when the sea state calms down. I passed the second of the great capes yesterday: Cape Leeuwin. I hope to be halfway soon. From then on, I will stop moving away from Les Sables to approach it...”
Eric Bellion (Commeunseulhomme): “Twelve years ago I crossed the Pacific with a couple of friends on a small 8m boat. It took us 47 days. So crossing the longitude of Auckland it will feel like I’m back somewhere I know. I know the route and that is reassuring.”
Nandor Fa (HUN) Spirit of Hungary: “I ran out of breeze yesterday morning completely. There was nothing. I had to sail 80 miles to the north to find new breeze which is what I now have SW’ly in 20kts, making 12-16kts now which is good but in effect that is half a day which I lost. I wanted to make some maintenance on the boat but sometimes I made only three knots of boat speed. The sea was smooth and the sails flapping. For the next couple of days I can move with this NW’ly wind I will get, and can make eight or nine hundred miles with it. I will need to sail close to the ice border because when a huge anticyclone forms above me then just 50 miles to the north there will be nothing. Before the start I said I did not care about what place I finish in. I still don’t care. To be eighth just now is really nice but it so far from the finish. I am more interested in keeping the boat alive, moving as fast as possible and as safe as possible.”
Week 7 Vendée Globe highlights: