Vendée Globe leader Armel Le Cléac’h today spoke of his frustration as erratic weather in the North Atlantic complicates his path to the finish line. At the latest position update the Frenchman had a narrow lead of 99 miles over British rival Alex Thomson as the pair forged their way north, around 350 miles south west of the Cape Verde Islands.
A costly passage through the Doldrums for Le Cléac’h has now been compounded by complex weather uncharacteristic of this part of the ocean. By rights Le Cléac’h should be enjoying fast sailing on Banque Populaire VIII in steady north-easterly trade winds, conditions that could have allowed him to consolidate his lead over Thomson's Hugo Boss. Instead a large depression 1,500 nautical miles to the north is disrupting the trades and playing havoc with Le Cléac’h's bid for a first Vendée Globe title. “The situation isn’t very clear in comparison to the forecasts,” the exasperated Breton skipper said. “For two or three days it’s been hard getting north. It’s been thundery weather since the Equator. The Doldrums travelled up with us with big clouds and heavy squalls. It hasn’t been as thundery since yesterday, but is very cloudy, and we’ve got some more complicated patches ahead. It’s different from the usual scenario and I’m at the limit of my understanding of the weather.”
Still hurting from seeing his 500nm lead at Cape Horn reduced to 146nm at the Equator, Le Cléac’h's quest for glory was dealt a further blow when he was snared by the Doldrums. Thomson's passage, by comparison, was much quicker and at one point he came to within 50nm of Le Cléac’h. Now the pair must deal with whatever the weather throws at them as their race for the finish line enters its final week. “We don’t have manoeuvres like we did in the Southern Ocean,” Le Cléac’h added. “It’s just a question of trimming depending on what the wind throws at us. I thought I had got away from the Doldrums but that wasn’t the case. It was more favourable for Alex and that's hard to take. For the moment, we’re in front. We are going to have to see what happens.”
Six hundred miles south, third-placed Jérémie Beyou joined Le Cléac’h and Thomson in the northern hemisphere after passing the Equator at 1329 UTC. Beyou is likely to have a much simpler traverse of the Doldrums, which are forecast to shrink in the west in the next 24 hours. That will also be good news for fourth-placed Jean-Pierre Dick, who has gambled on his route close to the coast of Brazil paying off by allowing him to skirt round the western edge of the Doldrums.
French sailor Eric Bellion is set to become the ninth skipper to round Cape Horn tomorrow, followed closely by New Zealander Conrad Colman. Three thousand miles west, Dutch sailor Pieter Heerema was temporarily celebrating after the wind hole that has held him for several days started to relinquish its grip. “The position of the area of no wind was a little different to what I was expecting,” the 65-year-old explained. “I've been locked up and the waves were coming at me from everywhere. It was a bit bouncy without much progress, but in the last two hours a little bit of breeze has started to establish and I think that will build and we'll be on our way again.” No Way Back skipper Heerema, in 17th, said the waves had been so bad that he had not been able to carry out any routine maintenance despite the lack of wind. “The boat was moving so badly there was nothing I could do – I couldn't stand or sit so I was just lying in my bed being bored for a long time,” he added. “They aren't big jobs though, nothing that will hamper my progress. I'm just trying to point the nose east as much as possible in the direction of Cape Horn - I want to get out of the Pacific as quickly as possible.”
DELIGHT FOR FA WITH 5TH CAPE HORN ROUNDING
Spirit of Hungary skipper Nandor Fa became the eighth Vendee Globe sailor to return to the Atlantic yesterday after passing Cape Horn. In an emotional dispatch from onboard he describes the moments leading up to his fifth Cape Horn rounding.
« Woooow! At 23:15 UTC I saw the land appear between two clouds! It’s an island, but it’s part of the continent. I haven’t seen anything like this since the start. It’s about 30 miles away from me. On the left in front of me, I see enormous grey masses of clouds, they are created as the mountains push the air upwards and humidity precipitates. They look scary, although I think they are harmless. We’ll see, I’m going their way.
The wind spun up and forced me to gybe again. Now I’m sailing on starboard tack towards SE until it will be worth to gybe back - it depends on the wind and our position to the land. As soon as I was done with the manoeuvre I leaned against the cockpit to watch the cumulus clouds above the Cordilleras. They were enlightened by the beams of the descending sun. Luminous white foams appear then dive under the water, God’s most beautiful creatures the albatross are circling around me like visions of a dream, and I wonder: this is probably the last time I see the rigid wonder this place is. Tears came into my eyes. This is why I came here, to say goodbye to this wild, inscrutable beauty.
The lights of the night are wonderful. Ahead of me it’s all greyness, but behind me is the exact opposite: beauty and happiness. On the right I can see the moon in its shiniest glow, the waves below are reflecting it. To the left there’s the blue stripe of the sunset on the horizon, as it looks across above the Antarctic. It doesn’t go darker than this, it goes around and comes back here. Soon it will greet me again from the east.
The wind had decreased and slowed me to nine knots. This is perhaps just so that I don’t leave the cape too fast. I’ll gybe in 20 miles, from there I will have 15 miles more to go. I will be over the cape by then, but I will be the closest to it - approx. 8 miles away. The wind is light and the streams are strong. I don’t want to be surprised so I won’t go any closer to the sleeping bear.
On 9th January at 05:00 UTC I gybed to port tack. From now I’m on the way home. I have to sail 17 more miles to pass the longitudinal point of the cape. Then I will have rounded Cape Horn officially. I’ve been cooling the champagne for five weeks, it’s ready to be opened. I’ve already had my celebration feast in the evening, I just need a good cup of tea beside the champagne. There is only a little month of sailing left, and we’re finished.»
Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy): “I cannot wait to pass Cape Horn for the third time and head northwards away from the cold, away from the icebergs floating above the exclusion zone, back to temperate climates, sunny skies and eventually, fresh food and the warm embrace of family and friends. And yet, I love the south. I love the raw power of the waves, the sometime terrifying fury of the wind and the knowledge that it's only thanks to the expertise I have worked so hard to accumulate, and the hard work and ingenuity in the moment, that I am able to survive and thrive in such an environment.”
Eric Bellion, COMMEUNSEULHOMME: “It’s not the same Cape Horn, when you’re sailing solo. I rounded it for the first time when I was 12. I was excited like a kid at Christmas. And it’s the same again this time. I hope to round the Horn tomorrow morning, but I’m going to let the heavy weather go by. I’m sad to leave the Southern Ocean. I feel good here. I don’t know when I’ll be back to see the albatrosses. Until I got to the Southern Ocean, I was quite tensed up. There was a moment with a deep low in the Indian and I decided to go for it, while my rivals moved away to the south I really enjoyed sailing like that. For me, it’s all about hunting down the lows. That’s how the adventure really began. I wanted to enter the unknown and I’m doing it my way.”
Highlights from week 9 of the Vendée Globe: