Vendee Globe: Difficult South Atlantic decisions
At the latest sched the leaders are passing the latitude of Rio de Janiero, but both Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac Paprec 3 and Jean le Cam, in the second wave aboard SynerCiel, are taking fliers to the west.
Positions at 0800 UTC
|1hr aver||24hr aver|
|1||Armel Le Cléac'h||Banque Pop||22°18.23'S||23°44.18'W||13.6||156°||10.6||12||288||19885.5||0|
|4||Alex Thomson||Hugo Boss||21°02.56'S||25°51.76'W||7.9||142°||7.2||12.3||296.3||20024.8||139.3|
|7||Jean Le Cam||SynerCiel||19°24.88'S||30°16.30'W||11.6||163°||8.2||14.9||358.4||20276.9||391.4|
|10||Tanguy Delamotte||Initiatives Coeur||08°28.06'S||28°32.70'W||10.6||169°||8.1||10.2||245.9||20669.6||784.1|
|11||Arnaud Boissières||Akena Verandas||10°14.30'S||31°19.16'W||9.3||163°||7.4||13||311.9||20701.2||815.7|
|12||Bertrand De Broc||Votre nom||08°05.77'S||31°49.25'W||11.6||180°||7||12.1||291.3||20815.7||930.1|
|13||Alessandro Di Benedetto||Team Plastique||00°10.85'N||26°26.71'W||8.5||189°||4||8.1||195.2||20995.4||1109.9|
|RET||Vincent Riou||PRB||Damage to hull and lower shroud after collision with drifting buoy (24 Nov)|
|RET||Zbigniew Gutowski||Energa||Autopilot failure (21 Nov)|
|RET||Jérémie Beyou||Maitre CoQ||Broken hydraulic ram (19 Nov)|
|RET||Sam Davies||Saveol||Dismasted (15 Nov)|
|RET||Louis Burton||Bureau Vallee||Rammed by a fishing boat, rigging damage (14 Nov)|
|RET||Kito de Pavant||Groupe Bel||Rammed by a fishing boat, hull damage (12 Nov)|
|RET||Marc Guillemot||Safran||Titanium keel broke (10 Nov)|
The frontrunners are currently on the cusp of the northwestern lobe of St Helena high and are negotiating a small ridge (Banque Pop appears to be through this, while Hugo Boss and Cheminees Poujoulat are currently in it...). Passing through this the wind backs into the north but the path southeast from here across the South Atlantic is looking extremely tricky. Tactics here could prove a real make or break in this round the world race.
In the short term there is an attractive band of favourable northeasterlies ahead of a cold front emanating from a giant depression deep in the Southern Ocean currently more than 2000 miles from the leaders. The problem is that the forecast has the area of high pressure, currently exiting mainland Brazil to the south of Rio, heading east across the track of the boats over the next 48 hours. So effectively if the boats attempt to hang on to the northeasterlies ahead of the front, there appears to be an opportunity to 'cut the corner' and it will be fast for two days...before the two giant highs merge, leaving boats with a 1,000 mile high ahead of them - a meteorological dead end.
So if they have 'missed this train', the skippers will be waiting for the next which is fortunately not far behind, with another front and more strong northerlies due on Wednesday to propel them southeast. These stronger winds will benefit not only the frontrunners, for it also serves to fire up the trade winds in the northern South Atlantic, providing more pressure for the backmarkers. However again the easterly progress of the front looks set to be too fast for the IMOCA 60s to hang on to and with an area of high pressure filling the void to the west of the front, the unfortunate are likely to find themselves either upwind into southeasterlies behind the front or even being rolled by the high.
The result is one of the most complex crossings of the South Atlantic we have seen.
The choice for skippers at this point is - do they want to get into the northeasterlies soonest (Dick's tactics) or do they want to stay in them longest (Le Cleac'h tactics).
In terms of the relative positions of the boats - due to race leader Banque Populaire slowing more in the ridge, so Francois Gabart on MACIF has managed to close in, his deficit down from 56 miles to 33 at the latest sched. Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac Paprec 3 has technically lost ground by virtue of his westerly track south.
After making gains on Saturday, Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss has lost 14 miles to the race leader over the last 24 hours. This morning Thomson sent this: “Morning! All fine onboard. The first part of the night was fast, the later part very slow with lots of big clouds and fluctuating winds. It feels a little like the doldrums again! The lead group have to traverse an area of light wind that we have just got into before the highway to the south opens up. We have arrived here too early and one thing is for sure over the next couple of days we will haemorrhage miles to the group behind who will approach the highway just as it opens."
It will be a shame to lose all those miles I have banked but a group of 7-8 boats together in the south will be fun and a good security net should something happen to one of us”
There is some movement between the 'oldies' behind the front runners, with Jean le Cam on a charge to the west and while Golding is still technically ahead, le Cam appears to have switched on SynerCiel's after burners and is now further south.
As Golding said this morning: "I am not sure what Jean has been doing but I can’t really match it just now. I suspect he has his Code Zero up and is running lower and faster to get south quicker and into the rotation earlier, but I am just not sure about that. If you get caught out it is much worse. I had a session with the ‘Zero' yesterday and it was fast but I got headed almost immediately and the angle was horrible for a while. So I am back on the Genoa and we’ll see how today pans out. I think I am in a better compromise.
“The breeze is pretty stable at 12-13kts just now. I think we will slow later, probably Wednesday when it gets complicated. There is a trough now under the [high pressure] ridge as it extends and there is no wind in that, so I think that will be an advantage to having plenty of runway."
However at the latest sched Golding has also got the bit between his teeth, with Gamesa the second fastest in the fleet (behind MACIF).