Vendee Globe: Leaders slow

As Jean-Pierre Dick tells of getting his large genniker down since it got stuck up mid-December

Saturday January 5th 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

While the lead duo in the Vendee Globe were the fastest boats in the fleet yesterday as they exited their final Southern Ocean depression, so this morning they are sailing into an area of high pressure and at the slowest among the 13 boats still competing.

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 45°23.28'S 43°58.88'W 7.7 16° 7.6 14.5 348.6 6001.2 0
 2 Armel Le Cléac'h Banque Pop 45°07.09'S 46°30.40'W 4.7 33° 4.7 14.5 348.7 6032.5 31.2
 3 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac 49°17.71'S 50°22.90'W 14.9 45° 14.3 17 409.1 6327.7 326.5
 4 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 52°42.75'S 59°11.41'W 14.6 50° 14.2 12.2 292.2 6678 676.8
 5 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 55°17.15'S 94°58.51'W 14.1 100° 14.1 13.1 313.2 7940.7 1939.4
 6 Mike  Golding Gamesa 52°10.61'S 103°40.00'W 15.2 74° 15 14.7 353.4 8302.4 2301.1
 7 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 52°08.95'S 106°19.47'W 15.7 93° 14.5 14.5 348.6 8382.9 2381.6
 8 Bernard Stamm Cheminees 52°23.02'S 107°48.77'W 17.3 80° 16.8 17.6 421.3 8446 2444.8
 9 Javier Sanso Acciona 52°05.04'S 109°12.07'W 15.6 104° 12 15.3 366.8 8484.6 2483.4
 10 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 51°58.51'S 110°38.78'W 14.2 88° 14.2 15.6 375.3 8532.9 2531.6
 11 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 50°45.85'S 144°43.82'W 10.4 70° 10.4 9.7 233 9865.6 3864.4
 12 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 51°53.88'S 152°06.28'W 15.1 69° 14.9 14.6 349.7 10150.2 4148.9
 13 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 52°06.67'S 177°25.37'W 17.8 85° 17.8 14.7 353.2 11082.7 5081.5
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)            

Over the last 24 hours MACIF and Banque Populaire have had their bows turned north, but still more than 100 miles separates the boats laterally on the race course with Francois Gabart holding a more easterly course. After a speedy day yesterday, this morning the two boats have been caught in a small bubble of high pressure however this will be shortlived as the bubble shifts northeast to be absorbed by the main part of the St Helena high to the north. This will see the wind filling in from the north or NNE this afternoon backing into the northwest tonight and with this shift the leaders will take the opportunity to get more easting in.

Yesterday Gabart reported: “I had some strong wind, like in the Southern Oceans; around 45 knots of wind, so it was very intense. These are the strongest conditions I've had since the beginning. The sea is a little bit chaotic so it’s complicated to deal with that. My strategy is clear, but every time I receive a new [GRIB] file, I make some adjustments [to it]. But overall, I know what my route will be to the end. It has been a long time I haven’t been that far from Armel. I think he has the most direct route to Les Sables d’Olonne. I don’t know what he has in his mind. You should ask him.”

The leaders' slowing should provide an opportunity for Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac Paprec 3 and Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss to regain some miles. Over the last 24 hours Virbac has gained 38 miles on the leaders, whereas Hugo Boss has lost 59. Virbac at present remains in 20 knots WNWerlies between the depression and the high, while Hugo Boss is currently due sout of the Falklands and will slow as he passes across the lee of the islands. The wind is forecast to build and veer into the NNW tomorrow night as an intense secondary depression associated with the main depression rolling past Cape Horn makes it across the Andes.

Yesterday Dick revealed more details of a significant issue on board his boat: Since 22 December the large gennaker has been jammed at the masthead. This created two major problems. The first was not being able to use other downwind sails. The second was that this 290sqm sail represented a constant risk, even rolled. It could have unrolled in the great south in a storm or sailing back up the Atlantic in a head wind. After four attempts to get the sail down, on the fifth in the lee of Terra del Fuego, Dick finally succeeded: “It had to work because there was no time left”.

“Since the problem arose, I have been watching the weather closely so I can climb the mast. I made several attempts, but the sea was really too rough. I even looked for alternatives such as stopping in a bay at Cape Horn, but the weather conditions were not favourable. I decided to do the job at sea yesterday evening.

“I had a long day yesterday evening, a true tour at high altitude! This difficult job took me 2 hours and 45 minutes in all: 45 minutes preparing, 40 minutes climbing and as much coming back down again, and 40 minutes up there. It is always tedious to have to climb the mast at sea. There's a lot of movement 30m up in the air. It is dangerous!

“It was a real surgical operation. I removed the damaged hook and replaced it with a new system (hook and halyard). Then I lowered the sail. There was an incident as I made the descent, 4m from the boat deck. The rappel system jammed. I had to abseil to get back down.

“I am delighted to have succeeded, since it is a very risky operation. It was not just a question of climbing up, undoing the halyard and climbing back down. I am proud to have succeeded. Another race begins!”

Back in the Pacific Ocean Jean le Cam and SynerCiel are the next due at the Horn, currently 933 miles away. The French legend should be able to ride the strong westerlies to the north of the depression currently to SynerCiel's south although the GRIB files indicate that le Cam will have to stay north on the approach to the Horn or risk falling into the light winds in the rather large middle of the depression. This will probably not be of great concern for le Cam who will be looking for the safest possible rounding have the dramatic incident where the bulb fell off his yacht just short of the Horn and he had to be rescued from his upturned hull by fellow competitor Vincent Riou.

Behind le Cam there is currently much action at the Pacific East icegate. At the latest sched the five boats from Mike Golding on sixth-placed Gamesa back to Arnaud Boissieres on tenth placed Akena Verandas are now separated by just 230 miles. Within this race within a race, Bernard Stamm on Cheminees Poujoulat, no doubt fired up by the controversy surrounding his disqualification from the race, has claimed another scalp, overtaking Javier Sanso on Acciona 100% Eco Powered yesterday afternoon.

At present the boats approaching the gate from the west including Dominique Wavre on Mirabaud and Acciona have passed the western end of the gate and will soon be shooting off south. Mike Golding remains ahead but approaching the gate from the southwest is aiming to cross it further east before gybing south, as will Stamm. Arnaud Boissieres has done a good job catching up and is currently just 25 miles from the western end of the gate. Yesterday he reported: "These conditions are stressful, we are between two weather systems so it is not easy. The wind moves 40°. I barely sleep. I must remain vigilant and be on permanent watch. It never stops."

This group has a fast 48 hours ahead of them with the wind in the southwest, however the next depression that will catch up with this group early next week will force them north of the great circle to the Horn.


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