Vendee Globe: West comes good

Jean-Pierre Dick and Dominique Wavre eating up the miles in strong northerlies

Thursday November 29th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

As the chart above and the table below show, the west has been coming good overnight with the boats that have taken that option to the most extreme degree coming out best - in particular Virbac Paprec 3 and Dominique Wavre on Mirabaud - but are they doing well enough to catch up with perennial race leader, Armel le Cleac'h on Banque Populaire?

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 31°23.06'S 14°13.79'W 11 152° 9.5 11.1 266.8 19153.2 0
 2 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 31°04.35'S 17°17.12'W 14.4 145° 13.2 11.3 270.3 19296.7 143.5
 3 Bernard Stamm Cheminees 32°00.26'S 19°01.88'W 12.1 137° 11.5 11.8 282.1 19346.2 193.1
 4 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac 34°16.18'S 20°41.14'W 16.6 123° 16.4 15.7 375.8 19359.8 206.7
 5 François Gabart MACIF 33°14.76'S 20°09.20'W 15.7 125° 15.5 12.7 305 19362.1 208.9
 6 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 32°58.67'S 22°05.33'W 12.6 134° 12.1 15.1 362.5 19456.4 303.2
 7 Mike  Golding Gamesa 31°33.37'S 21°51.33'W 12.8 142° 11.7 13.8 331.8 19485.4 332.3
 8 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 32°13.22'S 23°12.84'W 14.6 138° 13.7 16.2 389.4 19527.7 374.5
 9 Javier Sanso Acciona 27°49.27'S 25°11.67'W 13 144° 12.2 16 385.1 19750.2 597
 10 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 27°01.69'S 28°08.05'W 16.2 149° 14.6 15.1 361.9 19907.1 753.9
 11 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 22°56.75'S 25°39.47'W 13 165° 10.5 14.2 340.2 19943 789.8
 12 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 24°53.92'S 29°36.91'W 15 147° 13.9 15.4 368.6 20045.3 892.2
 13 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 13°30.67'S 27°11.31'W 10.5 172° 8.5 11.7 280.7 20391.9 1238.7
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 boats in the west are making hay at present with Jean-Pierre Dick on Virbac Paprec 3 now into the thick of the northerly winds ahead of the front approaching from the west. With the wind building and wanting to stay in the strong breeze as long as possible, Dick has turned his bow slightly to port on to a track towards the western end of the ice gate southwest of South Africa, converging with Banque Populaire's course. Over the four hours up to the 0800 sched, Virbac averaged 17.2 knots compared to Banque Populaire's 10.3, while over the last 24 hours she has taken 105 miles out of the race leader.

The speeds the lead boats are currently making indicates that the chart above is reasonably accurate with Francois Gabart's MACIF, and all the boats west of her in the strong breeze while those to the east, including Bernard Stamm's Cheminees Poujoulat, Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss and Banque Populaire, still in the lighter winds in the perifery of the high to the southwest. The upshot of this is that there looks set to be an almighty convergence tomorrow morning just north of the remote island of Tristan da Cunha, with Virbac Paprec 3 and Banque Populaire expected to be neck and neck.

While the boats in the west are pedal to the metal, vital to the outcome is the speed the front is moving east, for this is encouraging the giant area of high pressure, currently blocking the way for Banque Populaire and Hugo Boss, east. It appears that tonight even Banque Populaire should be seeing the stronger breeze.

Yesterday Thomson predicted: "1200 GFS weather saying the same, BP and VP will lead at the ice gate followed by MACIF and then the rest of us in a group..."

Forecast-wise in 24 hours time the centre of the high is shifting towards South Africa while another giant high is developing off the south American coast line the two separated by the giant front. It seems likely that the front will pass over most of the leaders on Saturday and as this is approaching from the west, this means that the boats that have made the best progress east will keep the northwesterlies for the longest...

Respect should go to Dominique Wavre on eighth placed Mirabaud, who, on any equally extreme west course to Jean-Pierre Dick, has taken the most miles out of the leader over this period, closing by 118 miles.

This morning Alex Thomson, still admirably holding second place, reported from Hugo Boss: “Another tricky night with black clouds circling the boat and disrupting the wind which was at times down to 6 knots and maxed out at 11 knots. This morning I have 12 knots of the wind and it seems a little more stable. The weather files say that it should be more stable from now on, I really hope so as I cannot afford another slow patch as the guys to the west are making 3-4 miles per hour on me.

"If I don’t have any more slow patches tonight I may hold on to 2nd place for much of today but at some point I will relinquish that position to Virbac and then another to MACIF. There is nothing I can do, the cards have been dealt and although I knew this when I climbed into the 2nd place I have now got used to it and don’t want to give it up!

"The saving grace for me over the last few days has been the wind angle. I have been sailing much tighter wind angles than the guys to the west which in the lighter winds has meant I have been able to get the best possible speed from the boat for that wind angle. HUGO BOSS is also performing well and exceeding the polars (best theoretical speeds) all of the time. This is helped by the flat water and maybe by the long ocean swell which is coming at us from the south west.

"In a little under two days a weather front will cross the fleet and the wind will go from the north to the south west. The fleet will gybe and continue to the ice gate and be followed by a ridge of high pressure which will probably slow most of us down. Fortunately this does not look like it will last long and we should pass the ice gate on the morning of the 2nd Dec. Then the routing takes us great circle to the next ice gate and worryingly close to a reported ice berg 500 miles south east of the first ice gate. I don’t fancy seeing any ice!

"I am reasonably well rested and very well fed and hopeful the wind stays up today."

Meanwhile Mike Golding on Gamesa is still locked in competition with Jean le Cam on SynerCiel, his French rival having benefitted from being further west. Golding has done well over the last 24 hours, taking 75 miles out of le Cam. However Golding's position is still due north of le Cam and as a result he is currently sailing in less breeze.

This morning Golding commented: "I’m just waiting for a bit more wind which should be coming but it’s a bit frustrating because it has not come through as expected just yet. I have just 10 knots of wind at the moment. I changed down from the Code Zero to the Genoa and if it is going to stay like this I need to think about changing back up, but at the moment I’d lose as much in the change, so I’m just hanging on to see if it happens.

"The breeze is due to come round and the direction is as forecast but it just does not have the strength. We have been catching the leader as expected, not quite as quickly as I’d have liked, and Armel does seem to have got away with a bit more than it looked like he had but they [Banque Populaire and Hugo Boss] will be headed and slower for longer. We have a net gain I’m sure, not as big as we’d hoped, but it’s all good."

Those in the latter half of the fleet have also been doing well, now that the trade winds have been fired up. Fastest in the fleet at 0400 was Javier Sanso on Acciiona 100% Eco Powered in ninth place, who has covered almost 400 miles in the last 24 hours, reclaiming 130 miles from the race leader.

Also very fast are Arnaud Boissières on Akena Verandas who has doubled his lead on Tanguy de Lamotte's Initiatives Coeur overnight.

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