Jérémie Beyou on Maître CoQ has emerged as the clear favourite to win the slow-motion three-horse race in the Bay of Biscay sometime tomorrow afternoon, as fluky winds frustrated Britain’s Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss).
At the 1445 UTC ranking, Beyou led the New York – Vendée (Les Sables d’Olonne) Race presented by Currency House and SpaceCode by 16 miles from Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) and 36.8 miles from Thomson, with 168.3 miles to go to the finish.
Beyou is expected to cross the finish line between 12:00 and 17:00 (French time), around one and a half hours ahead of Josse, who has been alongside or directly behind him since they left New York, and at least three hours ahead of Thomson.
The only scrap of hope for Thomson is that because he is about 75 miles north-west of the two French skippers, he will catch the shift along the coast first, as the wind swings from north-east to north-west tomorrow. Thomson retook the lead for an hour last night, taking 25 miles off Beyou, but then found himself almost becalmed at points today. Their average speeds over the last 24 hours were 6.2, 5.9 and 5.7 miles respectively.
If the weather files were all speaking different languages to each other, and the facts on the water, yesterday, they were much more unified today and Thomson was not just playing psychological games on the New York – Vendée Race Radio in the morning when he appeared to concede.
“I don’t know if I necessarily find it exciting, [but] it’s great all these boats finishing so close together,” Thomson said. “I think as we get closer, I’m not sure I’ll be that close behind the guys, probably more than three or four hours away. It’s been a superb race so far. And I guess to cap it all off we had to have some driftathon. I haven’t [been in such a light wind close finish in the Bay of Biscay before]. I think you’ll find Jérémie and Sebastien will have done an awful lot because they sail a lot in this area in the Figaro and both of them are hot at it.”
Thomson was not wrong, Beyou was relishing the fight when contacted later. “I really like the hand-to-hand stuff,” he said. “I’m not the sort of person to fall apart when it’s like this. The others know it too. If Seb gets past me, it’s because some thing or incident will have happened.”
“I’ve been in lots of stages of La Solitaire du Figaro with a smaller lead than this, managing 0.3 miles for four days, I’m used to close quarter racing. The difference to the Figaro is that these boats are not identical and I don’t know how Edmond de Rothschild perfoms upwind.”
Well, unless a rabbit is pulled from the hat, everyone has a much better idea now. Beyou has an old generation boat (the former Banque Populaire, which finished second in the last Vendée Globe in 2012-13), which has recently been retrofitted with foils. Josse and Thomson both have new boats designed with foils.
With conditions so light at the front, the fleet continues to concertina. Two days ago Paul Meilhat (SMA) was 400 miles behind the leader, now he is 160 miles behind. In the mid-fleet battle, Vincent Riou (PRB) passed Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh) to go into sixth place and is gaining fast on Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives Coeur), who is just 12 miles ahead. Shiraishi has other priorities though because he needs to finish the race to qualify for the Vendée Globe and he is just glad not to be feeling sea stick still.
“I feel great now that I’m not sea sick,” he wrote. “I was not feeling 100% for a week after the start, but now I’ve started to enjoy the food on board and the sailing. Tactically, because I do not have a Code 0 on board, it might be a little tough to go forward in light winds. For upwind, I only have a J1, so let’s see.
I’m delighted and honoured to compete against top competitors of the IMOCA. I feel that it was worth coming all the way from Japan to compete in this fantastic race.”
Luckily for him this middle group are forecast to be finishing upwind in 8-15 knot north-easterlies, so his J1 should come in handy.
Behind them, in the other three-way battle, of the damaged boats, Jean-Pierre Dick (St Michel – Virbac) continues to lead Yann Eliès (Quéguiner – Leucémie Espoir) and Morgan Lagravière (Safran). Dick slightly extended his advantage by staying deep south with the front in powerful 30-35-knot southwesterlies, while the other two gybed north. Dick has just gybed north directly towards the Azores. Eliès completed his qualification for the next Vendée Globe by covering 1,500 miles of the race.
In the battle at the back, after celebrating his 65th birthday yesterday, apparently in some style, Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) was 47 miles behind Conrad Colman (100% Natural Energy).
Rankings – 7 JUNE 2016 à 18.15 BST:
1/ Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) : 156.1 nm to the finish
2/ Sébastien Josse (Edmond De Rothschild) : +12.5 nm behind leader
3/ Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) : +43.1 nm
4/ Paul Meilhat (SMA) : +151.9 nm
5/ Tanguy De Lamotte (Initiatives Coeur) : +282.4 nm
6/ Vincent Riou (PRB): +285.9 nm
7/ Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh): +301.8 nm
8/ Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut) : +427.4 nm
9/ Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac) : +1 097.4 nm
10/ Yann Eliès (Queguiner-Leucémie Espoir) : +1 098.8 nm
11/ Morgan Lagravière (Safran) : +1 099 nm
12/ Conrad Colman (100% Natural Energy) : +1 415.2 nm
13/ Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) : +1 469 nm
Ab Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII)
by Marion Cardon