Lead trio setting the Vendee Globe pace

Frontrunners approaching Lisbon as skippers attempt to figure out how best to deal with Wednesday's depression

Monday November 12th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

On the second morning of the Vendee Globe, the trio of leaders remains tightly grouped approaching the latitude of Lisbon. Despite a ridge of high pressure converging with northwest Spain, the door has not closed yet with the majority of the fleet continuing to enjoy the northeasterly winds off the Portugese coast.

Image above courtesy of Expedition with GRIB files from Predictwind

Positions at 0800 UTC

Pos Skipper Boat Lat Long Spd Crs Spd2 Dist DTF DTL
          1 hrs   24 hrs      
 1 François Gabart MACIF 39°19.06'N 10°44.22'W 16.5 177° 13.6 327.2 23419.7 0
 2 Vincent  Riou PRB 39°22.68'N 10°39.50'W 16.8 237° 13.8 331.9 23424.5 4.7
 3 Armel Le Cléac'h Banque Pop 39°27.06'N 10°38.88'W 16.1 235° 13.7 329.8 23428.7 9
 4 Bernard Stamm Cheminees 39°50.66'N 11°04.29'W 14 221° 13.6 326.7 23443.5 23.7
 5 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac 39°47.35'N 10°33.11'W 17 240° 13.2 317.4 23449.2 29.4
 6 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 40°16.19'N 10°24.62'W 17.4 169° 12.3 295.4 23478.4 58.6
 7 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 40°05.51'N 09°39.18'W 15.4 176° 11.8 282.4 23481.8 62.1
 8 Jérémie Beyou Maitre CoQ 40°22.83'N 10°26.20'W 16.2 166° 12.3 295.7 23484.1 64.3
 9 Javier Sanso Acciona 40°32.89'N 10°02.45'W 15.8 234° 11.8 283.6 23500.2 80.5
 10 Kito  De Pavant Groupe Bel 40°28.02'N 09°45.94'W 15.2 174° 11.8 283.5 23500.5 80.8
 11 Mike  Golding Gamesa 40°43.54'N 10°25.03'W 14 177° 11.6 278.3 23503.6 83.9
 12 Louis Burton Bureau Vallee 40°46.27'N 09°36.85'W 15.8 165° 11.2 269.4 23520 100.3
 13 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 41°10.58'N 10°54.68'W 12.8 153° 11.3 272.1 23520.7 101
 14 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 41°01.69'N 09°45.16'W 12.6 222° 10.9 262.2 23531.8 112.1
 15 Samantha Davies Saveol 41°27.04'N 09°28.10'W 13.1 162° 9.8 235 23560.1 140.4
 16 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 42°12.79'N 09°45.95'W 10.2 164° 9.3 222.8 23597.4 177.6
 17 Zbigniew Gutowski Energa 42°50.15'N 11°07.26'W 4.8 256° 10.1 243.2 23610.7 191
 18 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 43°24.91'N 09°04.31'W 3.2 244° 8 191.8 23675.7 256
 19 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 44°23.03'N 07°36.46'W 3.3 239° 9.1 218.4 23760.5 340.7
RTD Marc Guillemot Safran                

Since setting off from Les Sables d'Olonne on Saturday at 1302 UTC, so already the fleet has dropped one, with the seemingly inevitable first night retirement coming unfortunately in the form of Marc Guillemot's Safran. The unique titanium keel foil, on the boat that is supposed to be one of the most advanced in the fleet, snapped and is now lying at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay (fuller details here). After being holed prior to the start, Bertrand de Broc on Votre Nom Autour du Monde (the former BritAir) has restarted and is now chasing the fleet.

With the Bay of Biscay dispatched in a highly shifting breeze, the fleet yesterday negotiated one of the trickiest parts of the race course - rounding Cape Finisterre at the northwest corner of Spain. Aside from being a wind acceleration zone there is also considerable shipping in this area with a traffic separation scheme which the boats have had to avoid. The dense shipping will remain in evidence as the boats sail south down the Portugese coast.

In the fight for first place, three boats are currently jockeying for position. Talented youngster Francois Gabart on MACIF took the lead on the final sched on Saturday night and has tenaciously held on to it, but Armel le Cleac'h on MACIF's sistership Banque Populaire and 2004 Vendee Globe winner Vincent Riou on PRB have stayed up with the pace setter and this morning just 9 miles separate the three.

The leading pack have consistently enjoyed slightly more wind than the chasing boats but their skippers are also among the most competitive and are probably the hardest working too...

Chasing them are Bernard Stamm on Cheminees Poujoulat and Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac-Paprec 3. While the lead trio is around 60 miles off the Portugese coast, Stamm has broken from the coast earlier and is now 85 miles away.

At present the main meteorological feature affecting the boats at present is a ridge, orientated SW-NE that is converging with the Spanish coast around Vigo. It looks as though the majority of the fleet has made it south of the ridge before 'the door closes'.

“The wind is dying from the north and the first will certainly escape," cautioned Kito de Pavant, on Groupe Bel in ninth position making 14 knots this morning compared with the leaders 16-17kts. "30 miles this morning will be 60 tomorrow and 100 the next day.” De Pavant is not doubt relieved to have got through this opening stage of the Vendee Globe - his boat was one of the early casualties four years ago, following a dismasting.

Sixth placed Alex Thomson appears to have had a difficult night on board Hugo Boss. Level pegging with Jean-Pierre Dick at the final sched last night, Hugo Boss has lost 30 miles since then.

Mike Golding on Gamesa is holding 11th. This morning he reported: “I am starting to recover from the shock of being here, doing it rather than talking about it, and it does take a bit of getting into. But it is good this morning, a bit fruity at times as I am pushing hard, but it is more enjoyable now as the Portuguese trades are still working and we are going OK. I am back in the good wind pressure for the moment.

“I got some good rest in the night. I had a bit of a bacon and eggs fest last night and so it’ll be cereal for breakfast. Everything is good with the boat really, there are a few minor gremlins, but nothing that can't be sorted out quickly and easily.”

On board Saveol, Sam Davies is holding 15th place and feeling the effects of the ridge, making just 10 knots compared to the leader's 16. “It is great to no longer have the menacing dark monster squall clouds that we had last night as that was pretty stressful to deal with each 35 knot squall. The sea state is calming down now too!”

Looking at the forecast ahead the ridge remains the dominant feature of the next 48 hours, the southwestern lobe of the main area of high pressure bringing such chilly but bright conditions over northern Europe at present. Come tomorrow afternoon for example the ridge will be on a NE-SW axis between Vigo and Madeira. This would indicate that the best tactic is to stay east as far as possible. Unfortunately the situation is not nearly so simple. As the ridge recedes over the Iberian Peninsula, so the depression currently to the northwest of the ridge is forecast to intensify and this will become the main element of the weather for the crews come Wednesday when it is set up centred to the east of the Azores and with 40 knot winds on its western side.

This depression effectively turns the route south hugging the coast into a dead end come Wednesday-Thursday so the skippers will be looking to head west, port tacking upwind into the south side of this system in southwesterlies before they cross the front and the wind veers into the northwest allowing them to reach away to the south again. How the skippers deal with this will be interesting to watch.

One to watch will be Polish skipper Zbigniew Gutowski on Energa who is already heading offshore. As one of the backmarkers, heading south he would have to cross the ridge, but it appears Gutowski intends to sail upwind along the top of the ridge on a course to the north of the Azores and may attempt to round the top of the depression... Watch this space.

Forecast chart for Wednesday 0700:

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