Westerly boats suffer a glass out
If there is to be a time for rest, repairs and recuperation after the first three days of racing on the Vendée Globe it has been the granted over the last few hours and into the fourth afternoon at sea. Long anticipated light winds have slowed large sections of the fleet and while these are frustrating and require equal amounts of concentration and application as when it is breezy, so too the solo skippers have been making sure that the slower times have been time to top up the energy reserves, to thoroughly check over the boat and to make good any small repairs that are required.
At the front of the 18 boat fleet the advance of François Gabart and MACIF continued again this afternoon. Somewhat against the expectations of his rivals, Gabart has been fastest of the leading group, still eeking out speeds of 10-11 knots in the dwindling northeasterly breeze. His position as the most southern of the top group was expected to see him slow into the unpredictable soft breezes of the high pressure ridge but so far the redoubtable, energetic Gabart seems to remain immune from the slowdown.
"I'm fine, it is going well," commented Gabart. "There is quite a bit less wind than yesterday. Meantime I will keep on going in order to find more wind. The aim is to cross this transition zone as quickly as possible. I'm almost on the same line as Bernard [Stamm] which is interesting. Down here to the south of the group we should cross this area a little later than the others."
Otherwise the pace is right down. The middle order battlers, sixth to 13th, were suffering with boat speeds down to very low single figures. Javier Sanso, the Spanish skipper on Acciona 100% Eco Powered was crawling along at 1.2 knots, Vincent Riou on PRB at 2.1 knots now in 10th place, and Dominique Wavre in 12th at 3 knots. Riou’s fall from the second place sees him now having lost 113 miles on the leaders, now only 66 miles from the Swiss skipper on Mirabaud.
Riou said this morning he was expecting to break out into the strengthening breezes of the low pressure system by this evening. Thereafter he will be into strong upwind conditions, with building seas, rain and gusts of up to 40 knots of wind which will require the 2004-5 race winner to be prudent through this transition phase before he should be first to get to the fast reaching conditions on the other side.
A southerly routing has continued to pay for the British skipper Mike Golding on Gamesa who has spent most of the day up in fourth position. Golding’s maxim has been to make hay while he could, carefully working down the best lane of breeze that he could find. He was locked in battle this afternoon with longtime rival Jean Le Cam on SynerCiel tussling over fourth and fifth. Their route back to the west is looking more time consuming with lighter and more variable winds, but the consensus among the skippers who have aired their views is that there will be little real change in the order after this stage – northwest v southeast – plays out.
Briton Alex Thomson, suffering slightly from a throat virus which prevailed around the race village pre-start, remarked on today’s radio vacation that he is content with his race so far, proving his credentials once again between fourth and eighth in the rankings, but he echoed compatriot Golding’s sentiments of just how much the first 24 hours of the Vendée Globe are a big physical and mental shock. But most of all Thomson had been shocked to watch fellow competitor Marc Guillemot lose his keel on Saturday afternoon.
“Actually I was alongside Safran and looking directly at the boat when the keel fell off. And I have to say for Marco if he had not have eased the sheets so quickly the boat would have gone over. I was only about half a mile away. And I was looking directly when I saw the boat heel violently and thought there was a big gust coming. And when it stayed over I thought oh shit maybe his keel hydraulics have gone, you don’t really think of the possibility of the keel falling off.
“It is always a shock to go from Les Sables d’Olonne right into the Vendée Globe the first 24 hours are very hard, pretty stressful and you don’t get much sleep. But I feel like I am now in good shape” Thomson confirmed.
Thomson has been busy repairing a blown ballast tank hatch, while Sam Davies has been tackling a main halyard jammer problem on her list of require repairs, while Golding has some small gremlins to iron out. With strong winds and fast conditions ahead, making sure the boat and skipper are back to 100% is vital.