Vendee Globe: Thomson and Stamm back in business

But Gabart and le Cleac'h have done a horizon job on the rest of the fleet

Sunday December 16th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

The lead duo in the Vendee Globe are into their third day of making solid progress on starboard gybe in the southwesterlies to the north of a giant Southern Ocean depression, with leader Francois Gabart on MACIF having ticked off Cape Leeuwin, the southwesternmost point of Australia in record time on Friday night.

Image above courtesy of Expedition with GRIB files from Predictwind

Positions at 0800 UTC

Pos Skipper Boat Lat Long Spd Crs VMG Spd Dist DTF DTL
          1hr aver     24hr aver      
 1 François Gabart MACIF 52°03.69'S 129°12.33'E 16.7 110° 14.4 17 407.3 12984.1 0
 2 Armel Le Cléac'h Banque Pop 51°51.95'S 128°01.65'E 14.8 114° 11.7 17 409.1 13024.3 40.2
 3 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac 49°55.40'S 116°03.70'E 17.3 107° 17.1 14 336.4 13470.6 486.4
 4 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 41°02.41'S 113°59.18'E 18 102° 16.2 14.7 353.2 13767.6 783.5
 5 Bernard Stamm Cheminees 40°04.13'S 113°24.07'E 19.3 97° 16.5 15.5 372.1 13824.5 840.3
 6 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 42°07.85'S 92°23.68'E 19.1 112° 18.9 11.8 282.7 14550.6 1566.4
 7 Mike  Golding Gamesa 41°03.01'S 89°03.80'E 10.5 146° 9.5 9.6 230.9 14712.3 1728.1
 8 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 39°41.14'S 85°24.44'E 17.8 110° 17.4 14.1 338.4 14897.6 1913.4
 9 Javier Sanso Acciona 41°13.04'S 82°02.02'E 11.6 120° 11.5 14.3 344.3 14990.1 2006
 10 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 39°40.03'S 71°54.46'E 13 112° 12.5 13.7 327.6 15464 2479.9
 11 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 38°54.66'S 62°24.43'E 14.2 82° 13.5 11 265 15907 2922.8
 12 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 40°07.90'S 55°30.65'E 17.6 95° 17.6 12.7 304.9 16212.9 3228.8
 13 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 39°50.01'S 42°50.63'E 13.6 3.4 15.3 368.3 16810.6 3826.4
RET Vincent  Riou PRB Damage to hull and lower shroud after collision with drifting buoy (24 Nov)  
RET Zbigniew Gutowski  Energa Autopilot failure (21 Nov)            
RET Jérémie Beyou Maitre CoQ Broken hydraulic ram (19 Nov)            
RET Sam Davies Saveol Dismasted (15 Nov)              
RET Louis Burton Bureau Vallee Rammed by a fishing boat, rigging damage (14 Nov)        
RET Kito de Pavant Groupe Bel Rammed by a fishing boat, hull damage (12 Nov)        
RET Marc Guillemot Safran Titanium keel broke (10 Nov)            

On Friday night at 22:25 UTC MACIF passed the longitude of Cape Leeuwin (some 880 miles south of it), setting a new record from the Cape of Good Hope to it, of 11 days 6 hours and 40 minutes, beating the time of his mentor, Michel Desjoyeaux, by just nine minutes. He also set a new record between the start and Cape Leeuwin of 34 days 10 hours and 23 minutes, an impressive 2 days 2 hours and 25 minutes faster than the previous record set in 2004 by Vincent Riou on PRB of 36 day 12 hours and 48 minutes. Armel le Cleac'h followed Gabart past the Vendee Globe's second 'great Cape' just under two hours later.

Since Thursday night the lead duo have been heading southeast in the southwesterlies winds circling a giant depression to their south that has tracking east at roughly their speed. However in order to stay on the fastest point of sail and avoid the same fate befalling them as Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac-Paprec 3 (ie letting the high to their northwest catch up with them) they have been taking a course leaving them south of the next waypoint gate. At some point today they will be forced to take the losing gybe north to cross the gate.

Yesterday Francois Gabart described the conditions: "It’s going really fast - it’s not easy to sail in such conditions. I may have little secrets allowing me to sail one knot faster than Armel. (He laughs) I’m in the same configuration as the previous days, though. Sometimes, you have little details that can explain the difference. I’m not really trying to have peaks of speed to beat a speed record or anything because it can be risky, I’d rather have a good average speed. The boat moves a lot, the wind changes directions a lot too, and the conditions are demanding, so I really have to focus on sailing and manoeuvres, I can’t afford to do other entertainment things. I’m sure it’s the same for Armel. The temperature is lower now, it’s 8°C outside."

Armel le Cleac'h added: "The sea has been agitated for 36 hours now, and there’s been a lot of rain too. The wind is around 22 knots, with 35-knot gusts. The autopilot is working well. I wish I could have a quieter moment so I can check everything on board. Unfortunately it looks like it’s not about to happen any time soon, so I’ll have to wait. That’s what the Great South is like, it’s not always ideal conditions, but that’s how it is. It’s exhausting, really, but at least we’re moving, we’re progressing, covering miles. Thanks everybody and I’d like to say hi to my wife, who’s attending the Live show today."

However most significant over the last 48 hours is that the lead duo have continued to perform a horizon job on the rest of the fleet. For example poor Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac Paprec 3 is now 486 miles behind MACIF, his deficit having grown by 204 miles since Friday morning. It's only been this morning that Virbac Paprec 3 has got up to speed again, but even now she's still sailing a knot slower than the frontrunners.

But the losses of Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss and Bernard Stamm on Cheminees Poujoulat have been greater, 311 and 278 miles respectively since Friday morning. They are now very much sailing their own race, their track east more than 700 miles to the north of where the leaders currently are with the added penalty that sailing in the lower latitudes means they sail more miles.

The good news for Thomson and Stamm is that they have stopped the rot. They are currently the fastest boats in the fleet, finally clawing back the miles in the strong northwesterlies ahead of the depression that was once Cyclone Claudia. From being 823 miles behind MACIF mid-afternoon yesterday, Hugo Boss is back to being 783 miles adrift of the race leader at the latest sched. Both boats are due to pass Cape Leeuwin imminently.

Behind them Jean le Cam on SynerCiel continues to get the better of Mike Golding on Gamesa, the British skipper having been nailed by a trough over the latter stages of last week that left him on the wrong side of Cyclone Claudia. However since then Golding's deficit on le Cam has only grown by 30 miles, although over the next few hours le Cam may be on the ascent again as he holds the northwesterly winds ahead of the latest front a little longer than Golding (who already appeared to have dropped off the back of them).

However there are other factors in play too. At around 0400 this morning Golding was just completing a sail change, when the furling line on the Code Zero failed as a squall hit taking the wind speed up from 18 to 35 knots. With the boat overpowered and the headsail flogging wildly with no way of re-furling, the autopilot let go. Quick thinking Golding reached for the keel dump and effectively set Gamesa on her side to reduce the pressure on the rig before battling the Code Zero down in a nasty heap.

This morning the British skipper reported: "There was certainly a point where I thought, 'Here we go again, please, not another Christmas in Perth. But I am reasonably sorted now, I am not going to go mad. I just have to consolidate with the boat a bit and accept that I won't have my best day. Otherwise there is the propensity to get right into that downwards spiral and that’s when bad things start to happen.

"I’m back on course now. The Code Zero is a bit of a mess with all the sheets inside it. I'm in repair mode now and have to sit and stitch the cover back on the furler line. I have not had a chance to really inspect the line, but I am certainly hoping the damage is only to the cover and none of the core is gone. That would make life difficult.

"I am a bit out of sequence now [behind in his sail change pattern to match the wind forecast] so I need to get to the Solent and two reefs and just not go mad. The main thing is I am now down to the line of Jean Le Cam, so I need to consolidate now. When all this was going on I had the flashback to four years ago. It is so dangerous now because you have 20 knots and are lulled into a false sense of security and then suddenly there is a big 35 knot gust."

Showing how fortunes can change, of note is that thanks to the oldies' hold-up tackling the trough at the end of last week, so Spain's Javier Sanso on Acciona 100% Eco Powered has now closed to within 100 miles of Dominique Wavre's Mirabaud, and has also taken more than 200 miles out of his deficit to Jean le Cam over the last 48 hours. And then there were four. It should be remembered that Sanso is sailing on a new generation IMOCA 60 and which should in theory have legs on his rivals' older boats. Sanso has managed to take a more southerly course than the rest of the 'oldies' allowing him to cut the corner.



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