A GAME OF TWO HALVES. THOMSON HALVES DEFICIT, MEILHAT, BÉYOU HALFWAY.
The fact that the time and distance that separates Alex Thomson from race leader Armel Le Cléac’h has more than halved in 24 hours is of little real consequence to the British skipper as he sets up for the strong winds brought along by a second successive low pressure system and then a messy area of high pressure thereafter.
The track of the depression has altered enough to force the French skipper, who has led the Vendée Globe now for over one week, to gybe and move back to the north-east. As he slants back towards the course of his British rival, Le Cléac’h’s margin has reduced again, from a comfortable 195 miles last night to 80 miles this Sunday afternoon.
But Thomson (Hugo Boss) is unmoved by the gains. It is the outcome after this new low, which is of more interest.
Speaking as he emerged from a brutal two days in the Tasman Sea and the Pacific, this afternoon, still in a ‘mere’ 30kts of breeze, he outlined:
“We just have to look and see what the situation is like after this second low. Armel is a little further east than me, so he should cross through it quicker, but then he will be held up in the middle in the light airs like me and then it depends on the wind angle when we all come out. I think where we are at the moment is irrelevant. We have to look further ahead.”
Some 1,200 miles behind perennial leader Le Cléac’h, both third placed Paul Meilhat (SMA) and Jéremie Beyou passed the theoretical midway point of the course today. Jean-Pierre Dick (St Michel-Virbac) and Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent) have crossed Cape Leeuwin. Passing in eighth in 34d 07h 08m Le Cam is exactly three hours faster than the race record pace set by François Gabart in 2012. At 57 years old on the optimised Farr design which won the Vendée Globe as Foncia in 2008 and triumphed in the last Barcelona World Race when he raced with Bernard Stamm the redoubtable, incorrigible Le Cam is four days and 9 hours quicker than his time on Synerciel in 2012. Dick is two days and one hour faster than in 2012.
Living the dream
Finishing the Vendée Globe is the universal dream, even if the actual expectations and aspirations among the 22 skippers still racing, are wildly different.
At the aft end of the fleet Sébastien Destremau is back at peace with his own world. After 36 hours trapped in a doldrums-like calm, his ‘office’ – as he refers to his 1998 IMOCA, which started life as Josh Hall’s Gartmore and went around in 2008-9 as Steve White’s Toe in the Water – is trundling along at 10kts in a good NW’ly breeze.
Destremau was resplendent in T-shirt and shorts, enjoying regular coffee breaks on his aft ‘patio’, despite the fact that he is sailing in the Roaring Forties, in fact at 41 degrees south. Destremau passed the first of the Vendée Globe’s three biggest milestones, the Cape of Good Hope, at 1430hrs UTC this afternoon, about 17 hours after Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys) who – because he had to return to Simon’s Town to repair his rudders – has crossed the Cape of Good Hope twice!
It was only in May last year that Eric Bellion, at 39 years old, sailed seriously on his IMOCA 60 for the first time. Helped by Michel Desjoyeaux’s Mer Agitée and the young British skipper Sam Goodchild – who joined Bellion on Vendée LIVE today – Bellion took on a tentative Transat Jacques Vabre last autumn in the Finot-Conq designed former DCNS. It is not Bellion’s first time around the world though. When he was 26 he sailed around on a tiny 8.6m boat, and has subsequently skippered a number of ocean sailing initiatives which highlight the values of inclusion and diversity. This Vendée Globe started relatively steadily for Bellion but now he is living every element of his dream, even down to an enforced rudder repair.
“At the start, I didn’t really care about the race itself, I just wanted to be in harmony with the sea and my boat. It was so difficult to find my rhythm and my pace. The Vendee Globe doesn’t fit in with my expectations. I knew it was something crazy and I knew it was a long way around the planet… I knew many things. Now though I feel very, very lonely and I’ve only covered a third of the race with all the rest of the planet to go. It’s not something you can imagine unless you experience it and when you’re racing in it you feel so vulnerable and weak up against nature and the sea. Anything could happen, you could collide with a whale, have electrical issues… There’s always a big depression on its way, the clouds are tricky here and the swell is huge, which tells me I have to be very careful and find a pace that’s reasonable for me. The race is something huge and crazy and in other ways it’s incredibly beautiful. I am enjoying myself too though.”
And veteran Nandor Fa’s race goes steadily from strength to strength. He finished fifth in the 1993 edition of the race and retired in 1996 but his dream of a third attempt at the Vendée Globe stayed on hold while he raised his daughters and built a successful marina pontoon construction business. He largely designed his own IMOCA and oversaw the build, doing much of the work himself. But he has had many bumps on the road to the start line, not least having to all but rebuild the hull because of a structural issue with the wrong specification of carbon fibre. Consequently he ran very late with his entry to the last Barcelona World Race. And in the last Transat Jacques Vabre he was dismasted early on.
But right now the Spirit of Hungary skipper, 63 years old, is absolutely in his element, seizing every opportunity with both hands. A transient sniff of the top ten, momentarily ranking ahead of French rival and sparring partner, Stephane le Diraison, who is only 14 miles ahead, Fa is pressing hard, averaging 17kts.
“I am going out to race. I am a racer. I love speed and going fast,” warned Fa pre-start to anyone who inadvertently mentioned him in the same sentence as other skippers aged north of 60.
Eric Bellion (CommeUnSeulHomme): “It’s not something you can imagine unless you experience it and when you’re racing in it you feel so vulnerable and weak up against nature and the sea. Anything could happen, you could collide with a whale, have electrical issues… There’s always a big depression on its way, the clouds are tricky here and the swell is huge, which tells me I have to be very careful and find a pace that’s reasonable for me. The race is something huge and crazy and in other ways it’s incredibly beautiful. I am enjoying myself too though. I’m sailing downwind and I just gybed near the exclusion zone making 15 to 20 knots. I only discovered solo sailing last year and it was my first solo sail in an Imoca in May!”
Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord): “I was fairly well spared at the start of the race but I’ve had a few issues since I arrived in the Indian – that’s just how it is at the moment. The boat’s back up to 100% now though. I was up the mast this morning fixing the lazy bag and I have a few odd jobs to do but nothing very important. The cars, the battens and the leak are all fixed now but I can no longer use the original system for filling my ballast tanks. I’ve rigged up another tube system but I’m yet to test it. If that fails, I’ll have a go at using the bilge pumps so there are a few options. I’m on port tack right now so that’s not really a concern at the moment but psychologically it’s difficult to know there’s an issue there. I have 30 knots of breeze and I’m making 20 to 25 knots of boat speed under small gennaker and a slightly reduced mainsail. Now that my lazy bag issue is resolved I’ll be able to hoist more sail area as there are no gales forecast. In the coming days, I’ll have a westerly wind so there’s lots of gybing on the cards.”
Alex Thomson (GBR) Hugo Boss: “I still have 30 knots of wind. It’s coming more from the south now, so I’m heading more towards the low pressure, aiming to go through the top of it, out the other side and into some warmer air hopefully. We just have to look and see how the situation is evolving after the second low. Armel is a little further east than me, so he should cross through it quicker and then be held up in the middle in the light airs the same as me and then it depends on the wind angle when we come out. I think where we are at the moment is irrelevant. We have to look further ahead. I have no problems right now. The boat is good except for a few little leaks. Much as I am not looking forward to going on the non-foiling side (port gybe) it will be nice to be on port and getting some warm air.
Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy): Since the beginning of my project I have always said that the Vendee Globe is so much more than “just” a solo nonstop race around the planet, as if that wasn’t already a lot! That’s why I converted the boat to be zero emissions, so I could better convey the values that are important to me. I would also like to use this race to inspire a love for our oceans and help nurture an appreciation for the fact that they need protecting. The first step is education and today I launched a scientific buoy from the Argonautica programme, which teaches French school children about the ocean’s currents as part of their science syllabus at school. The buoy has a tracker on it, just like our boats, and will be used to show the path of the surface currents in the southern ocean. Using race boats for the programme is a great idea because it saves the cost and impact of a huge research vessel and is just one more example of how the miniaturisation of technology democratises these great projects and allows students to launch interesting projects with fewer and fewer resources. I may well be wrong, but I think it was Teddy Roosevelt who said that he didn’t need to see inside the wonders of the Yellowstone National Park, just knowing it was there, and protected, was enough. I may be one of the few people crazy or privileged enough to come here and enjoy the wild blue oceans but if I can help share an appreciation for them then this participation in the Vendee really will have been about more than just a race. Ah, the race! Well, the pace has changed a lot in the past day. Gone is the constant deluge and the grey skies. They’ve been replaced by bright sunlight smooth(er) seas and gentle reaching conditions. Conditions were so mild down at 45 degrees South today that I was able to emerge from my wet layers and spend the day barefoot and topless in order to soak up some Vitamin D and scratch some itches that are normally buried by several layers. I am unfortunately in prime sailing conditions for the gennaker that was destroyed in my firey wipeout and as such am scooting along under smaller sails than would be ideal. To put things in perspective, instead of sailing with my big gennaker I am sailing with my small spinnaker, which is more than 50 square meters smaller, so I am missing the equivalent of an entire inner city apartment! While I’m under-performing now I’ll be able to send it with the big spinnaker again soon!”
by ANDI ROBERTSON/M&M