Vendee Globe: Leaders through the Doldrums

As Golding lines up to fully nail Jean le Cam

Thursday January 17th 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

MACIF has made it out of the Doldrums overnight and Banque Populaire is currently just exiting it, having apparently made a better job of it than the race leader. Meanwhile AlexThomson is past Recife and Golding and le Cam are struggling to get past Rio.

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 hour aver     24hr aver      
 1 François Gabart MACIF 06°16.55'N 27°57.23'W 10.7 10.2 8.7 208.4 2798.4 0
 2 Armel Le Cléac'h Banque Pop 04°39.96'N 27°36.62'W 10.1 349° 8.7 10.4 250.2 2881.5 83.1
 3 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac 00°43.09'S 28°57.74'W 14.3 13° 14.2 14.7 352.9 3212.9 414.5
 4 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 04°13.50'S 33°04.85'W 15.2 14.6 15.6 374.1 3497.2 698.8
 5 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 24°30.79'S 42°28.09'W 10.4 330° 5.6 10.3 247.3 4830 2031.6
 6 Mike  Golding Gamesa 29°17.87'S 32°12.45'W 9.4 58° 7 8.2 196.7 4902.1 2103.7
 7 Javier Sanso Acciona 31°41.45'S 33°56.70'W 6.6 67° 4.3 9.8 235 5066.1 2267.8
 8 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 30°41.53'S 40°16.94'W 5.2 25° 5.2 10.5 251.9 5123.1 2324.7
 9 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 30°24.04'S 44°10.03'W 7.6 310° 1.9 10.1 241.9 5188.1 2389.8
 10 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 48°26.35'S 52°24.20'W 12.1 360° 10.4 11.5 276.9 6322.7 3524.3
 11 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 52°24.83'S 53°22.19'W 14.4 92° 7.1 11.9 284.5 6546.3 3747.9
 12 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 57°10.33'S 71°55.45'W 17 85° 16.2 14.7 352.6 7177.2 4378.9
RET Bernard Stamm Cheminees Ran out of fuel after hydrogenerator problems (9 Jan)      
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 satellite wind radar images are indicating that the Doldrums is currently extending north to around 5°N indicating that MACIF is now out and into the beginnings of the northeast trades, while Banque Populaire is shortly to make her exit. As mentioned le Cleac'h seems to have made a better job of the Doldrums than his young rival and at the latest sched is just 83 miles off the lead, down from 127 yesterday (and substantially less than his 259 mile deficit on Monday...)

The weather ahead for the leaders is looking fairly typical, albeit perhaps not for this time of year. At present there is an unusual depression lurking in the middle of the Atlantic at a latitude between the Cape Verde and Canary Islands but this is set to dissolve soon. The main features are two giant zones of high pressure at present spanning the breadth of the north Atlantic. These are set to merge tomorrow, leaving the giant high still quite far south - centred some 500 miles southwest of the Azores by Saturday morning if the GFS forecast is accurate. Over Sunday-Monday this high is forecast to merge with another emanating from the east coast of the USA, sucking its centre back up to towards the Azores by Monday. The high is then forecast to extend out across from the Azores towards the entrance to the Mediterranean towards the end of next week, leaving a band of strong favourable following winds to its north, which the leaders will be able to key into en route to the Les Sables d'Olonne finish.

Yesterday le Cleac'h commented: "We’ve crossed the Equator and we’re now in the northern hemisphere. It’s great to have the letter 'N' back on the GPS after a month and a half of 'S'. I even talked on the VHF with a boat from Brittany - there are Bretons near the Equator! I’m fighting 100%, always trying to have the best sail configuration and the best route. It’s getting very hot in the cabin once the sun is up so it’s hard to stay clean and shave. The weather files aren’t always reliable in this complicated area, so we also use satellite images to see how different reality is from the info we get from the files."

Behind, third placed Virbac Paprec 3 is currently 42 miles from the Equator. She is following a track towards the Doldrums similar to that of Banque Populaire at around 28°W. At the latest sched Virbac Paprec 3 is still making good speed, but there is the ever present threat of Alex Thomson and Hugo Boss out to the east, who over the last day have passed Recife. Hugo Boss was the fastest boat overnight, but over the last 24 hours has only taken six miles out of Virbac, although both boats have closed on the leaders by more than 150 miles over this period.

The track of the British IMOCA 60 is currently some 200 miles to the west of Virbac's, with Thomson lining up for a crossing of the Doldrums (assuming he doesn't change course) at around 32°W. We're not convinced that Thomson's westerly position is going to be of much benefit - the Doldrums don't appear to be any better at 32°W than 28, and once through into the northeasterly trades Hugo Boss will be on a tighter angle to get across them.

Yesterday Thomson reported: "I had a fairly steady wind overnight and today has been encouraging so far. In 100 miles or so I won’t have to worry about the coast of Brazil and the wind should start to move more to the southeast and hopefully I can ease the sails and go a little faster. I want to stay a good way off the coast for now to make sure I do not get any disruption in the wind caused by the land effect. The weather files show my Doldrums crossing point should be less painful than the others, but I have heard that one before and we will have to wait and see. I will be in the Doldrums in two days from now and then back to going upwind again. I have started monitoring the long term forecast to see how I am going to tackle the Azores High - no decisions will be made until I am out of the Doldrums, but it is good to get a feeling for what is happening. Really hot and humid inside the boat today, but better than the freezing conditions at home."

Some shenanigans are going on for the next group now that they are into the South Atlantic's northeasterly trades. To the west, Jean le Cam on SynerCiel seems to be getting fully sucked into Rio, currently 100 miles from the Brazilian hotspot. SynerCiel is currently on a northwesterly track some 60° off course causing her VMG to plummet to just five knots. Meanwhile Mike Golding on Gamesa, not wanting to get caught in the same Rio deadend as le Cam, has has wisely taken a hitch out to the east as the leaders did. At some point Golding will tack, and this will put him in good shape, on a lifting tack to get up past Recife while leaving le Cam in his wake struggling upwind (as Jean-Pierre Dick did to Alex Thomson earlier this week).

Behind them Javier Sanso on Acciona 100% Ecopowered is doing a good job following in Golding's wake, while Arnaud Boissieres on Akena Verandas looks set to be on a prolonged holiday off the coast of Brazil and is in even worse shape that le Cam. 

Still in the Pacific, Alessandro Benedetto on Team Plastique, bringing up the rear of this Vendee Globe fleet, is set to pass Cape Horn today .


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