Vendee Globe - westerly investment strategy

MACIF still leads but PRB is battling west to be first into some strong northerlies

Tuesday November 13th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Tempted by the prospect of 30 knot northerlies filling in to the southeast of the Azores tomorrow, since yesterday lunchtime the Vendee Globe leaders have gybed west, but, to significantly varying degrees, marking the first major tactical moment of this seventh non-stop singlehanded lap of the planet.

Image above courtesy of Expedition with GRIB files from Predictwind

Positions at 0800 UTC

Pos Skipper Boat Lat Long Spd Crs Spd2
          1 hr aver   24 hrs      
 1 François Gabart MACIF 35°06.61'N 14°19.47'W 11.6 252° 12.7 305.1 23123.9 0
 2 Bernard Stamm Cheminees 35°41.74'N 14°34.31'W 12.7 257° 12.5 299.1 23153.7 29.7
 3 Armel Le Cléac'h Banque Pop 36°08.17'N 15°42.72'W 12.3 270° 13 311.7 23163.3 39.3
 4 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac 36°38.38'N 15°28.54'W 10.2 268° 12.5 299.2 23195.4 71.5
 5 Mike  Golding Gamesa 36°18.29'N 13°22.53'W 12.2 247° 12.5 299.4 23206.6 82.7
 6 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 36°52.55'N 15°02.21'W 10.6 255° 12.4 297.5 23214.9 91
 7 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 36°15.97'N 12°42.37'W 11.3 243° 11.3 270.9 23215.3 91.4
 8 Vincent  Riou PRB 37°15.33'N 16°10.75'W 4.3 268° 12.1 289.3 23222.4 98.4
 9 Jérémie Beyou Maitre CoQ 37°15.20'N 15°02.81'W 9.5 259° 11.9 285.7 23236.5 112.6
 10 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 36°48.44'N 13°02.31'W 11.9 249° 11.7 280.3 23240.5 116.5
 11 Javier Sanso Acciona 37°58.85'N 15°08.24'W 8.2 259° 11.8 282.4 23277.3 153.3
 12 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 38°26.84'N 14°34.11'W 7.6 246° 11.3 270.8 23311.6 187.7
 13 Louis Burton Bureau Vallee 39°01.69'N 14°44.93'W 6.1 204° 10.8 258.4 23342.7 218.8
 14 Samantha Davies Saveol 38°46.12'N 13°24.63'W 9.1 253° 10.1 242.1 23346.2 222.3
 15 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 38°32.83'N 10°50.89'W 10.4 168° 9.4 225.4 23374.9 251
 16 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 41°09.37'N 10°32.18'W 10.6 167° 6.3 150.3 23525.7 401.8
 17 Gutowski Zbigniew Energa 42°37.00'N 13°10.74'W 9.7 268° 3.8 91.7 23569.4 445.5
 18 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 43°59.18'N 11°03.43'W 11 238° 6.3 150.3 23676.6 552.7
RET Kito  De Pavant Groupe Bel Rammed by fishing boat, impact damage         
RET Marc Guillemot Safran Titanium keel broke            

Perennial leader, François Gabart on MACIF continues to be in front and in terms of DTF has extended his advantage to 29 miles at the latest sched, although this by virtue of his maintaining a course that is furthest south. In contrast 2004 winner Vincent Riou on PRB has taken the most extreme westerly course in an attempt to be first through the front associated with the depression forming to their northwest and into the strong favourable breeze beyond. Unfortunately this means sailing through the ridge that the boats have spent the last 48 hours studiously attempting to avoid. As a result at the latest sched PRB is not only pointing further away from the mark, but making just 4.3 knots compared to MACIF's 11. At the latest sched PRB is some 157 miles northwest of MACIF, but this 'westerly investment' has dropped Riou to 8th place.

Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss and Jeremie Beyou on Maitre Coq are following a similar if less extreme route to Riou.

Between PRB and MACIF lies Armel le Cleac'h on Banque Populaire, currently holding third with Bernard Stamm on powerful Juan K-designed Cheminees Poujoulat now up to second, but again by virtue of being furthest south.

Race veterans Mike Golding on Gamesa and Jean le Cam on Synerciel are following a similar play to Gabart and Stamm in taking the southerly option, delaying their gybe west.

This morning Golding explained his tactics: “It is difficult to do anything other than stick with what breeze I have. The models have been saying to go west for a while but it just does not add up for me at the moment. I still can see a little compression of miles to the leaders which in any case would be good,” said Golding this morning.

“The wind has some holes in it here, but the big debate really is when to go west and pile into the big hole which is there. I didn’t want to be the first to do that, but neither do I want to be the last. As long as I stay out to the east, I can see I might get some miles back. But equally I saw Jean Le Cam last night and he is more to the east than me and I can see him being caught out. My focus has been to stay in the strongest band of breeze and I feel I have done that well.

“Equally going west early means you are getting closer to the centre of the low early and it is quite aggressive and not moving very quickly [that means encountering quite a lot more wind closer to the middle of the depression] and so you really still don’t want to be giving yourself a kicking this early in the race."

So which strategy will win out? If the GRIB files are right then PRB should be out of the light patch at around lunchtime today with the breeze filling in from the south. She will then continue to reach west, cross the front sometime tonight (the front is moving east, converging with her) and will then be able to peel off to the south in 30 knot northwesterlies.

Meanwhile, assuming they stick to their present course, conditions are forecast to go soft for the southerly boats this afternoon before the wind fills in from the southwest forcing them west towards the front.

Come tomorrow morning, we shall see whether PRB's tactic of getting into the strong northwesterlies first has paid off, or if MACIF has banked so many miles over the last 24 hours that she is still ahead.

The arrival of the depression could also benefit the mid-fleet boats with Acciona, Mirabaud and Bureau Vallee all likely to get to the southwesterlies preceeding the front at similar time to PRB, although they are further north.

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