Coville v Joyon
Still no Franck Cammas. In the early hours Cammas sailed between Antigua and Barbuda, making relatively slow progress upwind in 10-12 knots. At this morning's 0630 GMT sched Groupama 3 was on the final approach to Guadeloupe, but coming in from the north she was still 78 miles away and had to sail down the west side of the island and then hang a left and continue a further 25 miles on to get to the Pointe a Pitre finish line. Cammas' latest ETA is now mid-afternoon.
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However, as we suspected yesterday, the real battle is on for second place in the Ultimate class between Thomas Coville on Sodebo and Francis Joyon on IDEC. The latest sched tells it all - Coville is still second - just - less than a mile ahead of Joyon, but significantly while Sodebo is approaching from the north and has averaged 13.9 knots over the last four hours, IDEC is steaming in from the east in more favourable breeze at an average of 18.9. Coville will be devastated if he is beaten even if it is by living legend Francis Joyon.
In the Multi50 class it is all change following the damage to both Franck-Yves Escoffier's Crepes Whaou! 3 and Yves le Blevec's Actual, who have now been overtaken by former Banque Populaire ORMA 60 skipper Lalou Roucayrol on Région Aquitaine - Port Médoc. The former leaders are now limping towards Guadeloupe - Crepes making just 3.4 knots, Actual 4.5. However the boat to watch out for is the last remaining survivor of the three 'new' Multi50s, the 2006 Route du Rhum winner Lionel Lemonchois on Prince de Bretagne. Having suffered main halyard problems earlier in the race Lemonchois had at one point turned back to Spain. He managed to fix the halyard issue, but this had left him was more than 400 miles astern of the leaders and apparently out of contention. Now he is on the charge - up to 5th place, 156 miles off the lead, and having averaged 17.6 knots over the last four hours Prince de Bretagne is currently the fastest boat in the entire Route du Rhum fleet. We see a story developing here...
The IMOCA 60 race is turning into a two horse affair between the 2006 winner Roland Jourdain on board Veolia Environnement and this year's Solitaire du Figaro and Transat AG2R winner Armel le Cleac'h on BritAir. At present they are in SSEerly breeze to the east of the shallow depression that has been lurking to the north of the Caribbean since late last week and over the last 24 hours has been creating a game of snakes and ladders between the lead boats. At the last sched yesterday le Cleac'h, to the southeast, had closed to within 17.9 miles of Jourdain in terms of DTF but since then Jourdain has found strong breeze closer to the centre of the depression allowing him to make better progress, extending his lead back up to 34 miles at the latest sched.
We reckon that Jourdain is looking in good shape in the short term at least - by this evening the depression is forecast to have funnelled off to the north and Jourdain will forge on to west until he picks up the favourable northwesterly wind shift, on which to gybe south. Being further west this will all happen for Jourdain before it does for le Cleac'h. Unfortunately though while the short term plan is looking good, as has been the case for Cammas and Coville, the path south towards Guadeloupe is looking far from straight forward and we can expect the present ETA into Guadeloupe (already back to Saturday) to be pushed back further.
And this leaves the southerly group... Arnaud Boissieres on Akena Verandas and Michel Desjoyeaux on Foncia continue to dive south, with the idea being that this allows them to head for Guadeloupe on a more favourable heading, just as Joyon is currently enjoying. Unfortunately this doesn't look like it is going to pan out nearly as well. As we observed yesterday, with the Azores high so far east, the current forecast has the southerly boat running out of Trade Winds on the final run into Guadeloupe. In fact come the end of the week there appears to be very little wind anywhere to the north or east of the Caribbean the long term forecast indiciating that when it does fill in, it will do so from the east. Expect a lot of thumb twiddling this weekend.
In the Class 40s Thomas Ruyant on Destination Dunkerque has at the latest sched reached the pleasant psychological level of having just notched up a three figure lead ahead of Yvan Noblet on Appart City and Sam Manuard on Vecteur Plus still jockeying for second albeit separated by some 130 miles on the water - Manuard is on the same line as Ruyant with Noblet off to the southeast.
Nicolas Troussel on Credit Mutuel de Bretagne continues to lead the group to the south and impressively, considering how far behind he was, is now up to fifth, 171 miles off the lead. Pete Goss on DMS is still diving south and remains the most southerly boat but this has caused him to drop back to 120 miles astern of Troussel, who's course is now converging with Ruyant (although they are still 400 miles apart on the water).
Weather-wise for the Class 40s, they are all at present to the south of the Azores high. To their west of the northerly group a strong band of SSEerlies is developing over the next 24 hours between the high and the shallow depression off the Caribbean (that is shifting north). These are likely to cause Ruyant to extend further once he hits these, however the wind is then forecast to veer into the southeast (ie on the nose) ahead of a front. There could then be the opportunity to break through the front and head south powered by the strong northeasterlies behind it (a la Phil Sharp four years ago). It seems reading the long term forecast that the two best scenarios are either to be west or south. West is the exciting route with lots of weather hurdles to encounter, while to the south it will be a much more pleasant ride in southerlies or easterlies. Between the forecast is indicating either no wind or strong headwinds.