Vendee Globe: Alex Thomson speed machine

But he and Bernard Stamm are likely to find a high over the next icegate when they arrive there tomorrow

Wednesday December 5th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

The last 24 hours has seen Vendee Globe leader Armel le Cleac'h and Banque Populaire extend their lead up to 53 miles yesterday afternoon but as the front has passed over them, so those behind have caught up dramatically.

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
          1 hr aver     24 hr aver      
 1 Armel Le Cléac'h Banque Pop 39°54.93'S 33°43.42'E 16.4 97° 16.1 16.8 403 17226.8 0
 2 François Gabart MACIF 40°19.44'S 33°30.80'E 18.8 76° 18.6 18.3 440.7 17239.3 12.5
 3 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac 39°55.95'S 33°03.85'E 16.3 83° 16.3 16.9 404.6 17257.1 30.3
 4 Bernard Stamm Cheminees 41°38.35'S 32°58.73'E 15.9 105° 14.9 18.2 437.4 17268.4 41.7
 5 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 42°31.11'S 30°29.65'E 21.8 102° 20.7 18.5 445 17384.3 157.5
 6 Mike  Golding Gamesa 41°43.61'S 21°47.98'E 12.8 102° 12.6 14.5 349.1 17769 542.2
 7 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 41°40.45'S 20°19.55'E 12.7 112° 12.1 13.4 322.2 17835.1 608.3
 8 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 41°56.97'S 19°59.19'E 13.2 112° 12.4 14 336.7 17849.4 622.6
 9 Javier Sanso Acciona 41°07.79'S 04°35.64'E 13.3 79° 13 6.9 166.3 18547.2 1320.4
 10 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 40°18.97'S 02°25.64'W 17.7 105° 17.6 15.2 364.6 18869.4 1642.6
 11 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 40°13.33'S 05°01.78'W 17.8 102° 17.8 17.2 412.3 18988 1761.2
 12 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 39°10.10'S 05°40.16'W 17.7 105° 17.7 15.9 380.5 19029.3 1802.5
 13 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 35°59.14'S 18°22.36'W 10.8 145° 9 10.2 244.6 19662.1 2435.4
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)              

Among the leaders Francois Gabart on MACIF regained second place from Jean-Pierre Dick and Virbac Paprec 3 at the mid-afternoon sched yesterday and at the latest report is just 12 miles behind race leader Banque Populaire - close after three and a half weeks of non-stop racing. However still on the charge is Bernard Stamm on Cheminees Poujoulat. He (and behind him Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss) has chosen to spear off to the southeast, but he has been fast and has taken yet more miles out of the leader, down from 70 miles yesterday morning to 41 at the latest sched.

But the prize for top speed goes to Alex Thomson. For the last hour Thomson has been sailing 3 knots faster than the other frontrunners, although he has dropped well south of the great circle to the ice gate. 

The reason Stamm and Thomson have been diverging from the leaders is that the forecast has an area of high pressure rolling eastwards towards the leaders over the course of the next 24 hours. While the lead trio, if they maintain their present speeds, should be able to stay ahead of the high long enough to reach the western end of the next ice gate, just over 400 miles away from Banque Populaire at the latest sched, Stamm and Thomson, if they held the same course as the leaders, would find themselves stuck in the middle of the high. Going south, should allow them to remain in favourable following breeze while the high is to the north of them.

But looking how this is going to pan out, the leaders should be able to make the best of this as they will round the western end of the icegate and then shoot south to avoid the clutches of the high. Unfortunately Stamm and Thomson don't look like they will be so lucky as they could do with the high moving east a bit faster so that they can reach into gate in the northwesterlies on the southwest side of the high. At present though it looks like as they attempt to get to the gate, the high will still be in residence making for a slow rounding. 

Behind, conditions are hopefully improving for 'the oldies'. Last night Mike Golding reported from Gamesa: "A really horrid 24hrs running/reaching in dreadful, huge waves. The boat has, and still is, taking a serious pounding in these conditions. Only small things have actually broken such as the gennaker furler drum which detached itself from its stowage position and has done some damage to the bow – probably only cosmetic but there could be some delamination – I’m not concerned as this is a strong bit of the boat. One of the daggerboard covers has come off and broken which means the forward leeward ballast fills and needs continual emptying. The leak in the transom is much worse and I had a good amount of water building up which, with the bouncing and pounding, has leapt over into the next bulkhead – I could shut the door but I like to see what’s happening.

"Everything else, keel system, rig sails deck gear and me have taken real punishment: this is a true Cape of Good Hope experience - and there is no escaping from it. It’s just a function of the wind and massive seas which are so large because of the Agulhas current which is setting against the wind. The water is warm and has both flying fish (normally unseen in the South) and Portuguese Man-O-War jellies in it – worth dodging when they arrive in the cockpit trailing stingers everywhere!

"The predicted fleet compression looks now like it will become a serious extension by the lead pack – disappointing - I need to work the boat to the max, inspite of the conditions - just in case the high comes in slower/faster and allows me to squeeze through. Seems doubtful now – but still worth a go."

Meanwhile the backmarkers are 'enjoying' riding the northwesterlies ahead of their first Southern Ocean cold front. 

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