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British skipper Alex Thomson - IMOCA boat Hugo Boss - 2016 Vendee Globe © Cleo Barnham Hugo Boss
British skipper Alex Thomson - IMOCA boat Hugo Boss - 2016 Vendee Globe © Cleo Barnham Hugo Boss

Sprint to Vendée Globe finish

The race to the Vendée Globe finish line today became an all-out, neck-and-neck sprint as the leading pair’s speedos rocketed into the 20s.

After several days of slow progress north in light winds, Armel Le Cléac’h and Alex Thomson were today blasting towards the home straight of the solo round the world race in winds of up to 30 knots.

The skippers, split by just 95 nautical miles, were eating up the 1,300nm standing between them and the finish line in Les Sables d’Olonne, France, as they try to squeeze every last bit of speed from their foiling IMOCA 60 raceboats.

At the 1400 UTC position update British skipper Thomson, who led the race through most of its early stages, had a narrow speed advantage as he hurtled north on Hugo Boss at 24 knots. French skipper Le Cléac’h, who has topped the rankings since December 2, was more than two knots slower as he closed in on the Azores. With the ETA in Les Sables currently Thursday, the Vendée Globe is shaping up to go right down to the wire.

“We have 17 to 20 knots of breeze at the moment and not very nice seas to be honest with the waves coming in from the east,” Thomson told Vendée Globe HQ in Les Sables today. “It’s difficult to go fast but I’m not complaining because I am making good speed. It’s going to get windy in the next 24 hours, up to 30 knots. We’ll be going fast, and we’ll have to see how things pan out.”

Thomson is competing in the Vendée Globe for the fourth time and is aiming to become the first Briton ever to win the race in its 27-year history. If he can continue to eat into Le Cléac’h’s lead there is a chance he could realise his goal. Le Cléac’h, meanwhile, is hell-bent on ensuring he scores his first ever Vendée Globe win after posting runner’s-up finishes in the past two editions.

Didac Costa (One Planet One Ocean) – Vendée Globe © Didac Costa / One Planet One Ocean /Vendée Globe

Didac Costa (One Planet One Ocean) – Vendée Globe © Didac Costa / One Planet One Ocean /Vendée Globe

The anticyclone currently blocking the duo’s path to Les Sables is moving towards the English Channel and in another 36 hours the pair will be able to point their bows towards the finish line for an upwind drag race to glory.

Some 6,000nm behind the leaders the quartet of Fabrice Amedeo, Arnaud Boissières, Alan Roura and Rich Wilson from 11th to 14th were fighting a battle against Mother Nature as they approached Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America. North-westerly breeze of up to 40 knots was making for a testing passage past the legendary milestone, not only battering the boats but whipping up seas of up to six metres high.

Amedeo, a sports journalist-turned-solo sailor, said his primary focus was to preserve man and boat in order to keep his dream alive of finishing the Vendée Globe. “It’s an amazing moment for me because it’s my first rounding of Cape Horn, and it comes after one month in the south,” he said. “But because of the wind I feel a little bit stressed and it hasn’t quite sunk in that I will round Cape Horn in a few hours. I’m very concentrated now but I will feel better in two days – then it will feel like a victory. I’ll have a lot of wind today and tomorrow so my psychological Cape Horn will be tomorrow evening.”

The enormity of the task at hand is not lost on Swiss sailor Alan Roura, who at 23 is the race’s youngest skipper. “It’s my first Cape Horn and it’s no holiday that’s for sure,” he said. “It’ll be a big, big relief to round it as it’s a key passage and marks our return home. I hope we’ll have milder conditions in the Atlantic.”

Extracts from today’s radio sessions

Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss): “We have 17-20 knots of breeze at the moment and not very nice seas to be honest with the waves coming in from the East. It’s difficult to go fast but I’m not complaining because I am making good speed. It’s going to get windy in the next 24 hours with up to 30 knots soon so I want to go fast. I can only try my best. I haven’t broken out the emergency bottle of mayonnaise yet but it’s there if I need it! I’m not really comfortable finding the limits of the boat so it’s difficult juggling with that to reconcile risk and speed. I won’t really know what the wind angle is due to my anemometer concerns but I’ll give it my best shot and see what happens. It’s not really been that impressive sailing this boat, it’s just like any other boat.”

Nándor Fa (Spirit of Hungary): “I was sitting outside, wondering. Somewhere very far from us, there is an ongoing fusion inside the sun that radiates and arrives with us in the form of sunlight. It makes us warm, causing warm masses of air to move upwards because new masses are constantly trying to take their place – this phenomenon is called wind. Wind, that generates waves, which then run forward to transmit energy and form the geography of our globe. They build or destroy, whichever they want. And here we are, travelling with the wind as an intermediary of power, bumping our way through the vast energy-traffic system. The worse the conditions and the bigger the problems, the happier you can be when you’ve managed to solve them!”

Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest Matmut): “I’m approximately 200 miles from Cape Horn. I have 25 knots but sometimes it’s more than 40 knots so I have a safe configuration of sails: I have a J3 and three reefs in the mainsail because I don’t want to break anything now. I’m 200 miles from my dream of passing Cape Horn so I want to stay safe. It’s an amazing moment for me because it’s my first rounding of Cape Horn, and it comes after one month in the south. Because of the wind I feel a little bit stressed and it hasn’t quite sunk in that I will round Cape Horn in a few hours. I’m very concentrated and I will feel better in two days – then it will feel like a victory. I’ll have a lot of wind today and tomorrow so my psychological Cape Horn will be tomorrow evening. The Vendee Globe was a dream for me, it’s a crazy race, a crazy adventure.”

Jordi Griso, manager of Didac Costa’s team (One Planet One Ocean): “Didac is doing quite well. The last few hours have been a little bit difficult because he’s had southerly winds from 25 to 30 knots and it was wet, and hard for the boat. He’s about five or six days from Cape Horn and he’s thinking about rounding it and starting to sail back to Les Sables. He’s happy to be in the race but he’s tired too. In the last month it’s been hard because the conditions were more difficult than expected and he’s had a lot of repairs to do. He wants to start to go north and have better conditions.”

Eric Bellion (CommeUnSeulHomme): “The weather is very calm all of a sudden and at first it felt like I was a groggy boxer just coming round! I’m not unhappy to rediscover the calm and a bit of heat. I’ve also got a bit of energy back. I’ve got around 10 knots and I have all my sails up, sailing at eight or nine knots to try to catch some wind in the west. Everything is fine. I have a lot of work to do because I have many things to fix on-board but they’re small things. I want to put my upwind sails up as all the sails I have up now are downwind sails. I’ve been really lucky since Cape Horn. The wind was very strong coming into Cape Horn with lots of squalls so I’m happy to be in lighter winds now and going upwind. It’s another type of sailing. I’m very happy for the change!”

by Vendée Globe

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