Vendee Globe: Monster compression

Jean-Pierre Dick waiting for the northerlies to fill in as Banque Populaire slows

Wednesday November 28th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

The widely differing strategies on how best to get to the Southern Ocean continue to pan out this morning with Armel le Cleac'h on Banque Populaire still sticking to their southeasterly course, pointing directly at the first icegate and Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac-Paprec 3 investing in the longer route in the west. But the major feature of the last 24 hours is that as the frontrunners have slowed, so those behind have closed in on them with the breeze.

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 27°28.54'S 16°40.02'W 3.7 147° 3.2 7.5 180.5 19391.4 0
 2 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 27°13.84'S 19°58.81'W 7.5 145° 6.4 9.6 229.4 19541.9 150.4
 3 Bernard Stamm Cheminees 28°00.48'S 21°53.51'W 13.2 157° 9.2 10.4 249.5 19598.3 206.8
 4 François Gabart MACIF 29°08.01'S 23°38.94'W 8.8 145° 7.1 7.6 182.5 19639.1 247.7
 5 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac 29°24.68'S 25°20.58'W 11 149° 8.3 6.2 147.8 19705.9 314.5
 6 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 27°57.49'S 25°59.48'W 15.2 162° 9.2 12.8 307.9 19781.1 389.7
 7 Mike  Golding Gamesa 26°51.90'S 25°12.79'W 11.8 158° 8.1 11.3 272.4 19783 391.6
 8 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 26°57.16'S 27°34.50'W 14.6 166° 8.2 12.9 310.4 19884.7 493.3
 9 Javier Sanso Acciona 22°02.75'S 28°17.05'W 14.3 175° 7.4 15.5 373.1 20090.3 698.9
 10 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 17°17.33'S 26°03.56'W 12.2 151° 10.7 12.1 290 20184.9 793.5
 11 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 21°34.33'S 30°57.54'W 13.6 172° 7.3 15.3 368.2 20224.5 833.1
 12 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 19°04.52'S 31°43.56'W 14.4 175° 7.6 14.8 354.5 20352.8 961.4
 13 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 08°50.57'S 27°29.87'W 13.1 192° 6 11.8 283.4 20612 1220.6
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)              

Worryiingly, but not unexpected for skipper Armel le Cleac'h, race leader Banque Populaire is currently the slowest boat in the fleet as they sail into the northwest side of the high to their southeast. Banque Populaire's lead peaked at 165 miles around lunchtime yesterday, but has since reduced to 150 (where it was 24 hours ago).

Meanwhile 480 miles east of the Vendee Globe leader, conditions are slowly turning favourable for Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac-Paprec 3 now he is into the northeasterlies, to the northwest of the high. Over the last two scheds Virbac has been the fastest of the frontrunners, with the exception of Bernard Stamm's Cheminees Poujoulat - is odd as the powerful Juan K design is not supposed to be good in the light. However boat speeds remain generally low with Stamm for example only making 13 knots to Dick's 11.

Between the two extremes coming in from the west, equally spaced, is Francois Gabart on MACIF, Cheminees Poujoulat and Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss, still technically in second place as he is sailing towards the mark, and who's average speed over the last four hours has been similar to that of MACIF in the west. Francois Gabart has finally stopped making negative VMG and overnight has gybed back to the southeast.

While we wait to see how these widely varying strategies pan out, highly significant is the progress 'the oldies' have made on the leaders over the last 24 hours. In more breeze further away from the centre of the high, they have all been piling in on the west route, astern of Virbac. According to the official numbers Jean le Cam on SynerCiel, who has overtaken Mike Golding's Gamesa to move into sixth place, has closed to 75 miles from Virbac Paprec 3 from 207 yesterday morning, while over a similar period Golding has done even better taking 159 miles out of Virbac's advantage on them. While these numbers are all based on numbers towards the next mark, in fact SynerCiel is now 92 miles behind Virbac on the water, Gamesa about 50 miles further back and further east. A little more closure is expected today.

This morning Golding reported: "We are in consistent pressure now and just rotating round the system, slowly waiting for it to happen and it is now. I think it has all shaped up okay in the end now. I think in the next few days Banque Populaire and Hugo Boss will come back to us dramatically and Virbac-Paprec 3 has some distance to lose to us as well. It looks okay now, but the main thing is that we will be in the same weather system and not behind, we should go into the system at roughly the same point and that is good news. The forecasts seem to be concurring change to change and look similar and so should generally be reliable.

"Jean Le Cam has done very well, even better than me, but we will get some back. And we are not very separated, I was ahead of him again for a bit, but it’s good."

Golding confirmed this morning that he has an issue with a halyard lock which needs to be changed. "It is sticky at the moment and that makes me nervous so I’ll just wind through a new halyard and get it fixed. I am not so worried when I’m on the Genoa, or even the Gennaker but the thought of a problem with the Spinnaker does not bear thinking about."

Meanwhile to their north, the boat that is making the highest turn of speed in the fleet is Javier Sanso's Acciona 100% Ecopowered. The Spanish IMOCA 60 has taken 100 miles out of the leaders in the last 24 hours.

So what's going to happen with the frontrunners? For the boats like Virbac Paprec 3 and 'the oldies' behind in the west, the wind is forecast to fill in from the west, building and slowly backing into the north - the beginning of the first rollercoaster ride. The boats going progressively east will in turn pick up the breeze. For Banque Populaire and Hugo Boss furthest east, their skippers are hoping that the high does as forecast and recedes ahead of them so that they can keep in some breeze, although there must be a strong temptation to bear away to the south to get a piece of the bigger breeze. 

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