Vendee Globe - 1330 - 17/11/00
The breeze is still broadly north-easterly, and this means that they can race straight down the course on port gybe, clicking off the miles. The strategic problem however, is that they may not want to go due south, instead they will want to be setting up for the longitude at which they want to cross the Doldrums. We reckoned a couple of days ago that Mike Quilter's 'sweet spot' was at 28W.
A day later Ellen reckoned she was headed for 30W, and Michel Desjoyeaux has just commented that he reckons 25W is where it's at, because of a depression sitting at 30W, with headwinds on its eastern edge (not visible on the above chart). So it looks like Quilter would've been about on the money - again.
At the moment, the leaders are at about 20N, and the Doldrums are normally expected to start at around 5 to 10N, that's 600 to 900 nm away, which at their current speed of around 15 knots is only two or three days. Looking at the US computer generated charts, come Monday it does look like just east of 25W is the place to be for a fast Doldrums crossing.
The problem for the leading skippers is that they are positioned around 20W - that's a few hundred miles to the east of the line they want to take south through the Doldrums. So they have to spend some time on starboard gybe to get across to the west.
When and how the skippers put that time in on starboard is the key to effective progress. In theory they'd play the windshifts - get a backing wind and a decent lift when you're on port gybe and it's time to throw one in, get onto starboard gybe and head west. That's all very well with a fully crewed Volvo Ocean 60, but it's a major on a solo Open 60. Gybe at the wrong time and see the wind veer straight back and you'll lose ten miles before you can say, 'Merde'.
The other question is how this balance of direct route versus the optimal route for the weather effects the leaderboard (you're going to wish you hadn't asked ...). The next waypoint on the Race Office chart - from which the distance to the finish is calculated - is the Cape Verde Islands. They lie across 24 W, and anyone aiming for this is going to be making gains on the leaderboard. Those trading distance towards that waypoint for strategic advantage, either by heading out to 28W or 20W will be making losses on the rankings. But with most of the lead pack following a line apparently heading for about 25W, the impact on the rankings is minimal. Parlier (green) has stayed a little further east in the last period, and perhaps gone into the lead because he hasn't tried to put that extra time in on starboard gybe.
But if you want real east, then look to our fleet contrarian, Dominique Wavre (brown), spearing out once again to Cornersville. The population of Cornersville is two however, Catherine Chabaud (yellow) is also playing the eastern side of the race track, closer to the African coast - and losing miles on the Race Office leaderboard as a consequence.
But she's doing all right according to Virtual Spectator, because of their different method of calculating distance to the finish - which doesn't include the waypoint at the Cape Verde Islands and so the direct route down the African coast is the fastest. But whether or not these two are losing miles in the long term remains to be seen. Complicated? Not 'alf.
Meanwhile, Marc Thiercelin has been having a few 'trawling' problems, commenting, ’I’m raking up the Atlantic.’ First he caught a big plastic bag on his keel four days ago, it happened at night and he didn't realise until the morning, which cost him a few miles in relation to Michel Desjoyeaux, whom he was close to at the time.
Then on Wednesday night, he caught a fishing line and had to stop the boat to get it off. This is bad enough on a fully crewed boat - but stopping head to wind or with the sails down and then wrestling something off the keel on his own must have been a nightmare. Thiercelin reckoned, 'Effectively I lost ten miles on my rivals on this diversion.' It's not all about boat speed or strategy.
Map images courtesy of Virtual Spectator, click here to go to the VS site.
Please note that two different methods of calculating the Distance to Finish are being used, one by Virtual Spectator and one by the Vendee Globe Race Office, we will try to always make it clear which we are using!
Link to the madforsailing form guide.
Rankings (0700 GMT except where stated, Friday 17/11, with Distances to Finish from Race Office)
1 Aquitaine Innovations (Parlier) at 06:00 22011
2 PRB (Desjoyeaux) +18
3 Active Wear (Thiercelin) at 06:00 +68
4 Kingfisher (MacArthur) at 06:01 +76
5 Armor Lux Foies Gras Bizac (Stamm) +82
6 Sodebo (Coville) +103
7 SILL Matines La Potagère (Jourdain) +124
8 Solidaires (Dubois) +133
9 Whirlpool (Chabaud) +146
10 EBP EspritPME Gartmore (Hall) at 06:00 +182
11 Union Bancaire Privée (Wavre) +220
12 Euroka Un univers de services (Dumont) at 06:01 +319
15 This Time Argos Soditic (Tolkien) +437
Team Group 4 still to restart