For the Vendée Globe leaders, this 8th edition of the solo round the world race is increasingly feeling like a game of two very distinct, contrasting halves

Wednesday, 04 January 2017

From the start on Sunday 6th November in Les Sables d’Olonne the pace was fast and furious, smashing records at each key point to Cape Leeuwin and into the Pacific Ocean. Even when Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII) rounded Cape Horn on 23rd December, the French skipper had an advance of five days, five hours and 38 minutes on the existing record to the legendary cape, set on January 1st 2009 by François Gabart. But a complicated and slow climb up the South Atlantic for the leading duo, Le Cléac’h and British skipper Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) – who this afternoon is 246 miles behind his French rival – has seen their margin against the record melt away like snow in the sun. By comparison, in January 2013 Le Cléac’h and leader Gabart had a relatively straightforward ascent of the Atlantic, pushing each other hard to the line.

As it stands this Wednesday afternoon the leaders are now only about 1150 miles or about three ‘normal’ days ahead of the existing record. And, ahead of them, though the next two and a half to three days to the Equator should see a small acceleration in ‘foiling’ conditions – 15-17kts E’ly then SE’ly tradewinds, the Doldrums look wide and active and the passage to the Canaries – at this time – is predicted to be atypical. Once out of the Doldrums the NE’ly trades do not look to be too reliable at the moment. And so any Christmas time great expectations that Gabart’s record would be blown apart by days now seem a little more fanciful.

Over the last two days, pre-race favourites, Jérémie Beyou and Yann Eliès, have sounded increasingly content with their position in the race. Both are ultra competitive, three times winners of La Solitaire du Figaro and for sure harboured aspirations of winning. But as they, too, sail northwards up the Atlantic, Beyou in third and Eliès in fifth, it is immediately apparent that they are now much more comfortable in their own minds with their positions in the fleet. In third, Beyou has been fortunate to slash more than 400 miles from his deficit to Alex Thomson and yesterday sounded almost light hearted, a notable evolution for a skipper who has had some dark days, struggling with technical problems.

Today it was Eliès’s turn to relish his northwards passage and his emerging intact from the Big South and in fighting form. For all that he might have hoped to beat veteran Jean Le Cam, 57, who is 13 miles behind him in sixth and who he has raced closely with since they entered the Pacific and to have outwitted Jean-Pierre Dick who is 59 miles ahead. Eliès is now 75 per cent of the way through his second attempt at the Vendée Globe. Eliès’s first shower in one month, in South Atlantic water of 12-13 deg Celsius, not only was about getting clean, but was as much about resetting his mind, purging expectations and re-focusing on the business of beating his two nearest rivals who between them have six Vendée Globe finishes to their credit. “I am in good company. They are stars of the Vendée Globe. I don’t think I’ll be able to catch Jean-Pierre (Dick). It’s nice to be having this close contest. The other two are exceptional sailors. I’d like to be in front of them, but it’s not that easy as they are sailing so well,” said Eliès today, saying that he has read many books so far on his two Kindles, his way of switching off from the stress and noise.

Conrad Colman has tacked back towards the east late afternoon Wednesday and so is believed to have completed enough of his repairs to gradually power up his Foresight Natural Energy after struggling for more than 48 hours since losing the pin which secures his primary forestay, in a major storm during January 1st and 2nd. The Kiwi skipper had less than ten knots when he set his course back towards Cape Horn which is 1300 miles away for him, and he looks set to have light conditions for some hours to come.

Quotes:

Yann Eliès, Quéguiner- Leucémie Espoir: “It’s a bit like a battlefield out here with boat-breaking conditions in thirty knots of wind. There should be 4 or 5 more hours like this before it eases off. We’re beginning to feel stressed about the gear. There are huge strains on everything. If I was all alone, I would take it a bit easier. Those with me seem to be pushing even harder. It’s like summer here after being down at 58°S five days ago. I managed to take a shower even if it was saltwater and cold. It’s something I haven’t been able to do since the Cape of Good Hope. We’re now on a long stretch on the port tack. You have to be patient in these conditions. It’s time to start thinking about the finish in Les Sables d’Olonne even if it’s a long way away."

Eric Bellion

 CommeUnSeulHomme: “I spent two days reaching in the low getting shaken around. I’m soaked but I’m happy as I’m making headway. We’re trying to keep up with the front. The past two days were the ones where the boat got the worst battering. I think the others suffered more than me, as they were further south. I’m not the same person as when we set sail. There has been a change. I think the deep low was the turning point. I’m more relaxed and am sailing. It doesn’t mean I have fewer problems, but it is more fun. I know my boat much better. We talk things over the two of us. It’s really a pleasure to be out here. Even I feel at home here, I still want to get back to land. I have an extraordinary boat and she is in good condition. And I’m in good health.”

Jean Le Cam, Finidtere Mer Vent

"We’re still slamming in this low, but it should ease off this evening. There will be an area of light winds to deal with and then we’ll be on the starboard tack to the Doldrums. I have been with Yann (Eliès) for quite some time. When you have a ridge of high pressure like that it’s hard to know what is happening, as the forecasts aren’t very accurate. It’s in light winds that there is the greatest uncertainty. From the Cape of Good Hope to where I am now, I have regained 700 miles from the leaders. I’m an expert at repairing things. I gybed. I heard clac clac and the damage was done. I went to bed as it was dark. I spent the night with the mainsail damaged. I woke up and set about sorting that out. I started at 9 and finished at 6 in the evening. In the end I didn’t lose that much, but it was a tiring day. I had the mainsail down on the deck. I thought I d sailed about a hundred miles, but it was only 35

Rich Wilson (USA) Great merican IV: “We took a little bit of a beating the other night in the front when a couple of tack-gybes did not go so well. There was lots of wind and 15-18 foot seas and the wind changed direction. The boat got beat up, I got beat up. It was pretty scary. It was very tiring. It took about a day to recover. We have come north to position ourselves for the next depression which is bigger but I think we are better positioned.”

 

Conrad Colman has made a temporary fix, re-attaching his flailing forestay to the bow of his Foresight Natural Energy using a lashing which he managed to secure despite 50kt winds and huge seas. Some 1300 miles west of Cape Horn, Colman has been making slow, but steady progress to the north east this Tuesday afternoon after the most challenging period of his race yet. The pin which secures the primary forestay is reported to have been lost during a vicious storm between Sunday and Monday. When the forestay broke free his headsail quickly unfurled and the 34 year old Kiwi-American’s boat was held on its side for several hours in huge seas and violent gusts of over 60kts. “He currently has the sail shredding itself in the wind as a flag from the top of the mast but the risk of dismasting has reduced. He managed to get out to put a length of 12mm dyneema as a supplementary stay from mast head to bowsprit and has 2 other lower forestays in place and a triple reefed main,” his shore team reported earlier today. The exhausted skipper told Race Direction that there came a point where he had just closed himself inside the boat and left it to take care of him. He has been recovering since. Colman is reported to have a replacement pin which he will try to replace when the winds reduce sufficiently. This is no simple task.

Eleven hundred miles west, in `3th place, the race’s youngest skipper

Alan Roura, 24, had to take emergency action last night when he broke one of his rudders on La Fabrique when it was struck by an object in the water. He was able to stop and replace it with a spare relatively quickly, in spite of the 40kts winds. In 15th,  due south of New Zealand, Didac Costa, the Spanish skipper of One Planet One Ocean, is running out of sails. He has had to drop his mainsail after tearing it. He anticipates it will be some time before he can have conditions suitable to make the required repair.

The stress of negotiating the narrow entrance to the bay at Port Esperance in the south of Tasmania, where Sébastien Destremau is making a short pit stop, nearly proved too much. The French skipper struggled with the pressure and admitted he found himself ‘crying like a baby’ for 15 minutes when he felt he could not pick up the required mooring under sail – as required by the race rules. He made an initial U-turn and headed back to sea despite his desperation to check over his rigging before the passage of the Pacific to Cape Horn. The manoeuvring proved successful and Destremau has climbed his rig, discovering that he has to make a carbon composite repair to a spreader. “The stress level to come all this way and try to get in with no charts, no detailed charts  - there are rocks and fish farms – and it is very narrow channel – I did not like it,” Destremau recalled today. “It was a nightmare. I even turned around this morning and said ‘I am not going in’. I thought ‘I can’t do this, I am going to smash this boat on the rocks. And believe it or not, I was so tired, so desperate, so disappointed that I cried. I was on the deck crying like a baby. I thought I am going to sail away and just take my chances. And good luck to me in the Pacific. I cried for a good 15 minutes. That was how tired and stressed I was. But now the boat is tied up I am good. I am fine.”

At the front of the Vendée Globe fleet Alex Thomson in second is 190 miles behind leader Armel Le Cléac’h. The British skipper of Hugo Boss has struggled at times to find the best of the light, fickle tradewinds. In third, Jérémie Beyou has gained more than 400 miles on the leaders since the Pacific. Now 400 miles, or about one day behind Thomson, Beyou was making 17kts this afternoon to the leading duo’s speeds of eight to nine knots. Three times winner of La Solitaire du Figaro Beyou said: “I have narrowed the gap a little. It had been a while since I was less than 1000 miles from the leaders. It was largely down to the weather. That has cheered me up. When I’m in good weather, I can use my phone or get data down to the computer. Sometimes it takes 3 or 4 hours to get one file. On some days I have managed to get one or two and on others none at all. I don’t have any major worries on Maître CoQ and can use all my sails. I managed to sleep last night and recharge my batteries, which is good as it has been very lively since Cape Horn. It isn’t over yet, as I have a transition to deal with in a few hours from now. I don’t know how that is going to go. If things work out, I’ll be upwind after that along the edge of the high. I’ll then have stronger winds to the Equator.”

L'étoffe des hérosCascade d’avaries dans le Pacifique Sud : Conrad Colman, Alan Roura, Didac Costa et Sébastien Destremau (au mouillage en Tasmanie) bataillent pour poursuivre leur route vers Les Sables d’Olonne. Après 58 jours de mer et de solitude, les 18 skippers en course et leurs bateaux accusent le coup. « Il y a de la fatigue physique et mentale, ça tire un peu sur l’organisme. On est dans les derniers kilomètres

 


Last Updated ( Thursday, 05 January 2017 )