Vendee Globe: Banque Populaire piles on the miles

Armel le Cleac'h makes a bold move, cutting the corner as he dices with the St Helena high

Tuesday November 27th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Given the complex weather ahead, so the east-west split between the three leaders in the Vendee Globe has grown substantially to 360 miles, as Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac Paprec 3 has stuck to his guns in the west while Armel le Cleac'h on Banque Populaire has set off to the southeast, now that the wind has backed into the north for him.

Image above courtesy of Expedition with GRIB files from Predictwind

Positions at 0800 UTC

Pos Skipper Boat Lat Long Spd Crs VMG Spd Dist DTF DTL
          1hr aver     24hr aver      
 1 Armel Le Cléac'h Banque Pop 25°43.66'S 19°24.29'W 12.3 110° 12.3 13.1 313.9 19571.8 0
 2 François Gabart MACIF 26°06.92'S 23°13.85'W 10.8 213° -1.8 9.5 228.5 19722.1 150.4
 3 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 24°34.40'S 23°02.27'W 15.1 130° 14.5 11 263.2 19769.6 197.9
 4 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac 26°59.74'S 25°53.59'W 10.9 186° 2.7 9.6 230.4 19808.7 236.9
 5 Bernard Stamm Cheminees 24°14.74'S 23°51.96'W 7.8 159° 5.6 10.6 254.2 19817.4 245.6
 6 Mike  Golding Gamesa 22°39.84'S 27°06.52'W 8.9 138° 8.2 10.4 250.4 20016.2 444.4
 7 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 23°15.37'S 28°16.37'W 11.7 142° 10.3 10.7 256.1 20044.9 473.2
 8 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 22°00.59'S 29°15.29'W 10.5 164° 6.8 11.9 285.6 20133.8 562.1
 9 Javier Sanso Acciona 15°55.03'S 29°23.61'W 14.6 175° 8.7 12.7 305.7 20380.2 808.5
 10 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 12°46.74'S 27°51.69'W 11.1 157° 9.4 10.9 261.8 20450.8 879.1
 11 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 15°27.41'S 31°29.60'W 14.5 180° 7.5 13.1 313.3 20487.4 915.6
 12 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 13°10.15'S 31°51.47'W 11.3 174° 7.1 12.7 304.4 20597.7 1026
 13 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 04°07.51'S 27°16.43'W 10.4 175° 6.7 11 263.1 20822.4 1250.6
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)              

Race leader Armel le Cleac'h is going out on a limb. He has keyed Banque Populaire into the favourable northerlies around the northwest lobe of the high and despite the GRIB file above indicating him to be in light wind he still appears to not only be making good progress but is on course. Because of this has been packing on the miles on those behind him - his lead over Francois Gabart on MACIF now up to 150 miles from 33 just 24 hours ago.

The analogy with crossing a road is very apt for what is going on at the moment. Banque Populaire has effectively stepped out just in front of a car, while Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac Paprec 3 made the decision early that he was going to go behind the same car, while, caught in the middle, Francois Gabart is having to wait for the car to pass so he can go behind the car, like Virbac. So while the course is to the southeast, MACIF is currently heading southwest and is actually making negative VMG down the course...

The 'car' in this analogy is a giant high pressure ridge that currently extends from Florianopolis on the Brazilian coast ESE out into the South Atlantic towards Tristan da Cunha. Banque Populaire is currently basking in the northerlies down the west side of the dominant area of high pressure off to the southeast. The problem is that the ridge is forecast to merge with the high and come Thursday morning this will leave the race leader with a giant area of high pressure ahead of him at which point he too will have to spear off to the southwest to stay in the breeze at which point the boats that went west early will be making hay, hooking into the strong northwesterlies ahead of a front associated with their first Southern Ocean depression.

Who will win? With 150 miles in the bank (geddit?) and more to come over the next 24 hours, the forecast for Armel le Cleac'h is looking increasingly good and it looks like he should be able to get south around the west side of the merged/merging highs with less pain than those behind are experiencing. Anyway, watch this space.

Meanwhile the boats out in the west can look forward to a day of pain before the northeasterlies fill in with the wind building and backing into the northwest. They have the add disadvantage that they have to sail many more miles than Banque Populaire looks set to.

At present Alex Thomson is technically third, but realistically is fourth. This morning he reported: "It was a tough day yesterday and yesterday night with lots of cloud activity and variable wind which meant I got hardly any sleep. I managed to get quite a few naps last night when the wind was more stable and am feeling back to normal. I have had some issues with the hydro charging so was working on that yesterday as well as some problems with the battery management system which is not alarming properly.

"So I spent all day yesterday in between clouds, on the phone with Rachel Howe, who is in charge of electronics on our team, trying to get to the bottom of the problem. She thinks we have solved it now, fingers crossed and the hydro seems to be behaving itself again. I can see me having hydro issues all the way around the world, good thing we have a few spares onboard!

"So I am up to 3rd again this morning, no point in getting excited though as ultimately it is a question of strategy. Jean Pierre Dick has opted to take a more southerly route and will get the new wind first when it comes in the next 24 hours. I will be one of the last to get the new wind so I have to hope I continue to have wind for today and hope they do not!" (See Alex's video below)

Meanwhile the situation up the race track is working out well for the 'oldies' in the second wave. Relative to Virbac-Paprec 3, Mike Golding on Gamesa has taken 70 miles out of Dick's advantage, now down to 207 miles, roughly the same amount that Jeanle Cam on SynerCiel has managed. 

Golding is currently going slowly. "It’s the third Doldrums of the race, it is very frustrating,” Golding summarising progress through the last 15 or 16 hours onboard Gamesa this morning. "The wind is up and down and it is pouring with rain. All night it has been like this. I had a steady afternoon yesterday, with 15 knots of breeze. Then I had a little stoppage. Then it came back at 15 knots, then 15 knots from a bad direction, then I stopped again and since then it has been up and down. As I speak it’s just dropped to five knots. It is so up and down, it is hard to rest.

"It’s hard to see a way out right now, you kind of have to wait until the system moves and evolves. Certainly the wind is not doing what is says on the files. The reality it is very much more confused and dynamic. It’s very difficult to see what to do from a strategic point of view. I can see what Jean-Pierre [Dick] is doing, while Armel is just banking miles down the course as much as he can in terms of distance to the mark. I was a little worried about Jean Le Cam in the west of me but in fact he seems to be having the same thing.

"It is hard to have a sail plan. At the moment it is full main and genoa, but sometimes the main is flogging. But it will be interesting to see how my average speed is, I suspect it is not too bad."

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