If Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss was ruing the ranking on Sunday morning, which confirmed that he was continuing to lose miles to the leader Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ), it should be some consolation to have seen that he is not alone. Second-placed Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild), who remains on a track just south of Beyou, was also losing miles.
Beyou took 12 miles out of Josse overnight from Saturday into Sunday to increase his lead to 17.6 miles by 0630 UTC and extended his lead over Thomson by over 20 miles to 65.5 miles. Over the last four hours Maître CoQ has been averaging 15.8 knots, only 0.7 of knot faster than Edmond de Rothschild and 1.4 knots more than Hugo Boss. But Thomson must be glad to through the pummeling he has been receiving in the north, near the eye of a depression that has been throwing winds touching 50 knots at him.
A short message from his team yesterday suggested that the last two days have not been easy: “Alex is experiencing some tough conditions onboard with gusts of 50 knots and some crazy waves. He has slowed down and is sailing with just a reefed mainsail. Alex is fine, and is focused on getting through the rough weather and back to racing at 100% and reaching Les Sables d’Olonne safely!”
Further consolation, of a kind, may be that it is far from plain sailing with just over 700 miles to go to the finish and Thomson is still in the hunt. The depression the leaders are in is moving north relatively quickly and the wind will ease to around ‘just’ 20-30 knots and progressively drop. By Monday morning it will be around 15 knots from the south. The present forecast suggests an area of high pressure in the Bay of Biscay will turn the wind to slop by Monday evening and potentially make progress painfully slow on Tuesday. The bad news for Hugo Boss is that if the predicted easterly wind begins to fill in from the south (closer to the Spanish coast) it may benefit the more southerly Maître CoQ and Edmond de Rothschild.
One thing is certain, Beyou, a three-time winner of La Solitaire du Figaro, who is a past master at close-quarter offshore battles, will not give this lead up without an almighty fight.
In the mid-fleet, Paul Meilhat on SMA, in fourth place is powering along, averaging over 19 knots this morning as he continues to head north, catching some of the same wind the leaders have been in. Vincent Riou on PRB has docked for his pit-stop in the Azores to repair a leak and some power issues, which means Japan’s Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh) has moved into sixth place.
The depression to the north of the back five in the fleet is going to move east faster than the boats can move. But the subsequent north-westerlies they will find at the backend of this depression will be of particular benefit to the handicapped boats forced to sail on a port tack (using their starboard foil/daggerboard) – all except 100% Natural Energy have no port foil/daggerboard after the damage at the start.
But the race-within-a-race at the tail-end of the fleet is beginning to separate, with, unsurprisingly, the three bigger French team skippered by Jean-Pierre Dick (St Michel – Virbac), Morgan Lagravière (Safran) and Yann Eliès (Quéguiner – Leucémie Espoir) pulling away. Leaving the New Zealander, Conrad Colman (100% Natural Energy) and the Dutchman, Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) to battle it out at the back.