Vendee Globe: Next stop Cape Horn for race leaders

Banque Populaire and MACIF in sight of one another again as Stamm departs Dunedin

Saturday December 29th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

With the northwesterlies filling in, so the race leaders have managed to head northeast and at the latest sched has just crossed the Pacific East icegate - the last of nine icegates that have dictated the route of the Vendee Globe fleet through the Southern Ocean. 

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
          1 hour aver     24hr aver      
 1 François Gabart MACIF 52°03.76'S 106°33.07'W 19.9 67° 19.9 14.1 339.2 8395.9 0
 2 Armel Le Cléac'h Banque Pop 52°05.17'S 106°40.44'W 19.3 66° 19.3 13.8 331 8400.6 4.7
 3 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac 50°11.54'S 115°44.28'W 18.8 83° 15.3 18.3 438.6 8750.7 354.9
 4 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 51°20.10'S 130°07.60'W 15 129° 13.2 12.9 309.4 9256.6 860.7
 5 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 49°52.22'S 154°47.10'W 14.8 108° 13.7 14.7 353.3 10228.6 1832.7
 6 Mike  Golding Gamesa 52°32.87'S 167°13.29'W 13.2 66° 11.9 11.5 275.7 10706.1 2310.2
 7 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 50°52.72'S 167°26.88'W 11.8 75° 11.4 13.6 326.3 10714.2 2318.4
 8 Javier Sanso Acciona 51°59.23'S 174°26.09'W 13.8 89° 13.7 15.9 380.8 10972.7 2576.8
 9 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 52°05.11'S 179°53.77'E 15.8 83° 15.8 16 383 11180.1 2784.2
 10 Bernard Stamm Cheminees 48°49.36'S 178°51.04'E 17.4 123° 16.5 15.5 372.7 11255.4 2859.6
 11 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 48°38.30'S 157°05.40'E 14.5 104° 14.3 12.6 302 12071.9 3676.1
 12 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 50°14.73'S 150°23.63'E 16.2 90° 15.3 15.1 362.3 12286.1 3890.3
 13 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 50°25.00'S 126°15.67'E 10.6 60° 9.2 10.4 248.5 13179.1 4783.3
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)            

Another day and another race leader in the Vendee Globe as the game of tag continues between Francois Gabart on MACIF and Armel le Cleac'h on Banque Populaire, the two boats amazingly still within sights of each other after 50 days at sea. After a slow 48 hours, so the northwesterlies have filled in and the lead duo are currently back to being the fastest in the fleet.

Yesterday before the new breeze had arrived Gabart reported: The boat is going slower for sure than it has been for the last days. It is not so bad. We have also have easier conditions for the boat and for me, the skipper, just to live a bit easier and to check the boat a bit, to manage to eat. Without big waves it is always easier. I am quite happy to have these lighter conditions right now. I am not sure whether there is a level of stress, or whether it is just the stress of competition. We train for this. We are used to sailing like this with boats very close. Maybe it is easier for us to have a boat so close, maybe if there was not a boat around it would actually be more stressful. I don’t know. In a way we are used to it, to be like this and to struggle with the boat a bit sometimes. To be honest if I could be ahead of Armel at Cape Horn of course that would be better but I would be happy. But it is more important to have the boat there in very good conditions and to be in good shape. I want to be there first of course and so I will do all I can to make sure I do to be in a good shape. I think I will be in good shape for the Atlantic. The next few days don’t look too difficult. And I think it will be interesting in the Atlantic and I need to be ready for that."

Now the boats have crossed the final icegate, the lead duo have their sights set on Cape Horn, currently 1385 miles away from MACIF at the latest sched or a Tuesday-Wednesday rounding.

Conditions ahead for the leaders are looking okay even though there is a strange situation occurring tomorrow when the usual situation of having an area of high pressure in the north and a depression deep in the Southern Ocean, has inverted, theoretically providing headwinds for the race leaders. In fact the high is forecast to return north by Monday morning leaving the leaders making good speeds in northwesterlies all the way to the Horn.

As the leaders have been heading on the losing gybe northeast to the icegate, so this has allowed Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac Paprec 3 to make further inroads into them, closing by 75 miles down to 354 miles at the latest sched. Virbac-Paprec 3 is currently 241 miles from the western end of the Pacific West icegate. Unlike the leaders Virbac is approaching this final icegate from the northwest and her issue is that with the wind in the northwest she's going to have to put in a costly gybe to get south at some point.

Yesterday Dick reported: "For me the wind is getting a little lighter, but it’s still there. I have more wind than the two guys in front of me, which is good news. I’m heading towards the last waypoint of the race. And then the Cape Horn. I should round it in 5 to 6 days. Outside the picture has been much the same for a few days now. There is no sun, it’s grey either in the sky or on the water. My best Cape Horn was obviously the first. I remember popping a bottle of champagne just in front of it. There was a lot of wind. I was very impressed. At that moment I knew I was really becoming a true sailor. I also remember when I passed it with Loïck (Peyron). We did a live vacation at this time. We were only 2 miles away from the Horn. It was just incredible."

Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss is currently 747 miles from the western end of the Pacific East icegate. Having headed south from the Pacific West icegate, Thomson gybed back to the northeast early yesterday evening (UTC) with the wind shifting into the northwest. To the north of a giant Southern Ocean depression so Thomson will be spending the next 48 hours playing the major shifts to take the most direct route to the next icegate.

Behind, among the 'oldies', Jean le Cam on leader SynerCiel has been on the charge again in the strong westerlies between the high in the north and the depression to the south. SynerCiel is heading for the western end of the Pacific West icegate, with the western end 385 miles away at the latest sched. In 30 knot westerlies, le Cam has added 76 miles to his lead over Mike Golding's Gamesa in the last 24 hours. But this is largely down to Golding putting in a costly losing gybe south to avoid the light winds associated with the high to his north.

Golding reported this morning: "It’s been a pretty horrible period going on the ‘wrong’ gybe but in the end I have followed the routing option. That involves taking some pain but I can see that Dominique had gybed too and the files show he should have less wind and so I am hoping I will be okay against him.

"Really with this high moving south, it is just about mitigating the slow down. The high will go forward too, ultimately, and might even catch Jean le Cam. When we are behind it, we should be moving reasonably quickly and can maybe come in on the back of it a bit.

"It has been quite busy with a couple of gybes and sail changes. To be honest the sail changes were hardly very glamorous. I had a couple of snarl ups. I don’t think that is down to tiredness in particular. These are things that I’ve maybe done 100 times and they go like clockwork but sometimes these things happen.

"It has been quite a busy period. Physically I am okay, but you do feel the fatigue. You need to be in harmony with the boat, in the rhythm of the race and with the weather. But when you get out of phase a bit then it is easy to get into a virtuous circle. For sure I think that when you are ahead then things go well and feel easier, but I would bet that the guys who are chasing the leaders feel themselves to be working harder, doing more and finding it harder than the guys in front. When you are chasing it is hardest."

Over the next 48 hours the GFS forecast has the high Golding refers to shifting east more than south and growing, moderating the winds to the south of it from the 30 knots le Cam is currently experiencing to 15-20.

Finally Bernard Stamm and Cheminees Poujoulat have returned to the race course. They departed their anchorage east of Dunedin at around 0600 UTC yesterday morning. Having repaired both his hydrogenerators the Swiss skipper sounded exhausted rather than elated: “I’m on the way. I am now trying to recharge my batteries. Just now I just try the autopilot. I am happy with my work. I tried to fix the pedestal winch but it has gone again. Now I am tired. I have just never stopped. I am done in. I am going to get some sleep because I need to recharge my own batteries too.”

The repairwork has cost Cheminees Poujoulat five places over the last week and he will pull back into the Southern Ocean race track in 10th place with Arnaud Boissieres on Akena Verandas ahead of him. The powerful new generation Juan K design is currently one of the fastest boats in the fleet as she charges southeast away from New Zealand and it will be interesting to see how many boats Stamm can pick off over the days ahead.

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