Riou fights back as Burton tells of his collision
The rollercoaster ride south is on for the Vendée Globe leaders, as on the heels of strong breezes from the north, speeds for the pacemakers surged this afternoon, finally freeing them from the shackles of the high pressure ridge and a frontal passage, which combined to form the biggest strategic challenge of the solo non-stop round the world race so far.
Speeds for the hugely impressive long time leader François Gabart on MACIF have hit 20 knots this afternoon as he consolidated his advantage at 52.5 miles, regaining 12 miles lost this morning against his key adversary Armel Le Cléac’h on Banque Populaire. He has been just a ‘click’ slower on Banque Populaire over the middle of the afternoon than his younger rival. And the threat to Le Cléac’h’s second place from hard driving Swiss skipper Bernard Stamm on the powerful Cheminées Poujoulat – five miles behind - is very real.
Gabart’s strategy so far has shown a maturity almost beyond his tender years. Not only did his choice to stay south allow him to keep making miles down the race course while his rivals were slanted west to to be first to the new breeze, but the resulting angles he has sailed over the course of today and his greater distance from the low pressure centre appear to have blessed him with a less chaotic sea state which has simply allowed him to drive harder and faster.
In contrast, certainly through the early part of today, rival skippers were talking of big, unruly confused seas precipitated by the changing wind directions.
The comeback of the day though is that of Vincent Riou. The 2004-5 Vendée Globe winner has risen back through the rankings from ninth this morning to fourth this afternoon as his more extreme, early move to the west has finally paid a dividend. But though he has gained places, his ascent of the fleet has in no way dented his deficit to the leader. In fact, he has lost a further 20 miles.
The fast downwind conditions, another drag race with not immediate tactical choices, are set to last another 24 hours at least. But with the seas lining up in a more orderly fashion as they proceed south, the tempo will be high but much more acceptable than today’s succession of changes which have left many skippers wearied.
Meantime the race’s ‘benjamin’ the youngest of the 20 solo sailor who set off from Les Sables d'Olonne on Saturday, 27-year-old Louis Burton, confirmed this afternoon that he will try and sail the 700 miles back to Les Sables d’Olonne despite having a badly damaged port shroud following his collision with a fishing boat in the early hours of this morning.
The skipper of Bureau Vallée believes his passage back across the Bay of Biscay will take him around four days. The race rules prescribe that the start line closes at 1302 on the Tuesday, 20 November. According to Burton his biggest hurdle is having to replace the custom shroud itself, the manufacture of which would normally take three weeks.
The weather is due to ease for his passage back to Les Sables d’Olonne, but his immediate problem is that he cannot tack on to port and needs to stay mainly on starboard.
"My main emotion is just shock and I am pretty depressed that I have to go back to Les Sables d’Olonne. I was going through the front and had a couple of hours to go and I was in 30-35 knots of wind. There was very poor visibility, rough seas and I had the radar and the AIS on. I was under the canopy trying to nap a bit while making about 20 knots. I turned my head and saw a medium sized trawler slide along the hull. I grabbed a light to inspect the hull in a panic to see if it was okay. I was relieved but then saw the damage to the shroud. I tacked on to starboard immediately and focused first on Lisbon looking to get to land as quickly as possible,” reported Burton this afternoon.
His challenge is arguably greater than that of Briton Mike Golding who lost his mast eight hours into the 2000-2001 Vendee Globe. He returned to the start port and stepped a replacement to restart seven days after the fleet.