Home straight already
574 miles to go and a lead of 231 miles: the situation is looking good for Franck Cammas to claim his first Route du Rhum victory. However it is too early to be counting one's chickens and Cammas will no doubt recall the fate of his regular crewman Steve Ravussin in the 2002 Route du Rhum when having made it through the stormy conditions of the first few days, the Swiss skipper held a substantial lead only to capsize at around this distance out from the finish. Doh!
Yesterday Cammas continued gybing in a generally southwest course down the favourable band of northeasterlies and has got across to the right side of the course, avoiding the shallow depression off the northeast of the Caribbean and also putting him into a covering position ahead of Thomas Coville on Sodebo. Sodebo is now up to second having overtaken Francis Joyon in terms of DTF yesterday morning. Joyon's trail blazing 24 hours came to an end yesterday morning peaking at a daily run of 556 miles or 23.2 knots. IDEC's speed has dropped because she and Yann Guichard's Gitana 11 now find themselves to the south of the depression and on a port tack fetch in southerlies.
While the runway to Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe is rapidly diminishing, the last miles look set to be tricky for both pairs of boats. While IDEC and Gitana will continue their port tack fetch they look set to have a fast finish as the wind builds to 15-20 knots (still from the south). As this happens conditions are set to go light and on the nose for Groupama 3 and Sodebo later today, building to 10-15 knots tomorrow morning. So we can expect a compression among the leaders before they have to do their clockwise lap of Guadeloupe to get to the finish line at Pointe a Pitre on the south side of the French Caribbean island. Groupama 3's ETA has been put back to 1530 GMT on Monday.
In the Multi50s Yves le Blevec and Actual have once again eaten into the lead of Franck-Yves Escoffier's Crepes Whaou! 3 taking it down from 160 miles yesterday to 104 miles this morning. This is partly due to Escoffier diving south to cover his rival. The ride is likely to get a little uncomfortable for the two nimble frontrunners as the wind shifts into the south in the next 24 hours. The routing is not looking very pleasant from here to the finish as if they head directly for Guadeloupe they will be on a port tack fetch for the next four days.
Roland Jourdain and Veolia Environnement continue to do a fine job in the IMOCA 60 class where over the last 24 hours they have extended their lead from 38.5 miles to 77 miles this morning. Part of the reason for this is that yesterday morning second placed Armel le Cleac'h on BritAir was the first to gybe south, while the rest of the westerly group followed suit late morning. As a result of this BritAir among this group is now furthest south, a move that has caused him to drop to fourth. However he has been first to see the wind veering from the northeast to the east this morning as BritAir falls under the influence of the shallow depression the Ultimate class boats are currently trying to avoid. Le Cleac'h, this year's resounding Solitaire du Figaro winner has taken the shift and has now pointed BritAir's bows directly towards the finish line. Being some 180 miles southeast of Veolia should allow BritAir to stay in stronger wind longer than the leader as the wind shifts into the southeast over the next 24 hours. As is the case in the Multi50s, with a forecast from here to the finish (the IMOCA 60s are due into Pointe a Pitre on Thursday) of southerlies, any gains they can make to the south now will end up with them being able to sail slightly freer and faster to the finish line.
As expected the last 24 hours have continued the pain for the southerly IMOCA 60s - Arnaud Boissieres' Akena Verandas and Michel Desjoyeaux's Foncia. For some reason we're not entirely clear about, Desjoyeaux has chosen to gybe on to a northwesterly course whereas surely he should, like Boissieres, be heading southwest which would put Foncia into a much better position in the longer term with a much better angle to the finish than the boats coming down from the north? In the process he is now back to DFL with Boissieres having overtaken the double Vendee Globe winner at the latest sched.
In the Class 40s the westerly group have chosen to take differing action according to where their tea leaves tell them the centre of the high (currently to their northwest) will move over the next 24 hours. Leader Thomas Ruyant on Destination Dunkerque and Yvan Noblet on Appart City (ex-Telecom Italia) were the first to gybe south yesterday. This move seems to have worked favourably for Ruyant, having now extended his lead to 56 miles ahead of second placed Sam Manuard, compared to 32 yesterday. It seems that the leaders should just be past the high in time before it extends its tentacles southeast later today, but it is likely that it will cause the wind to lighten substantially for those behind in this group including Britain's Richard Tolkien on ICAP ORCA.
Conditions are now coming good for the southerly group of Class 40s and will favour them finally later today when the conditions may go soft for the westerly group, while they remain in 15 knot northeasterly trades.
Into next week the wind looks set to be strong and southerly for the westerly group, while those to the south should be making good progress in trade wind conditions until mid-week when the high shifts back to the position we saw last week, centred between the Azores and Portugal, which will see the wind utlimately veer into the south for the southerly group too. At present Nicolas Troussel and Credit Mutuel de Bretagne lead the southerly group just over 200 miles behind Ruyant in terms of DTF. We suspect the conditions next week will allow them to play catch up significantly.