Vendee Globe: Banque Populaire slowly closing

More thoughts about Virbac Paprec's keel lost, as Golding and le Cam continue to jockey for fifth place

Tuesday January 22nd 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

MACIF's lead over Banque Populaire is back down to double digits as she enters the Azores high, while Jean le Cam and Mike Golding remain locked in battle, but overnight's big news has been the sad loss of Virbac Paprec 3's keel - read more about this here.

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 31°28.94'N 33°05.53'W 13.4 359° 8.6 11.5 275.3 1699 0
 2 Armel Le Cléac'h Banque Pop 29°05.50'N 33°02.86'W 12 352° 7.1 11.8 282.1 1794.2 95.2
 3 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac 22°42.03'N 34°40.16'W 10.3 331° 3.7 11.4 274.3 2134.9 435.9
 4 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 19°17.96'N 36°18.39'W 13.7 351° 9.3 11.6 277.6 2351.6 652.5
 5 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 12°42.40'S 33°02.27'W 11.8 349° 10.2 9.7 232.6 3971.8 2272.7
 6 Mike  Golding Gamesa 13°00.83'S 32°13.27'W 11.8 352° 10.5 9.6 229.8 3973.2 2274.1
 7 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 17°11.06'S 30°44.09'W 9.6 328° 6.2 8 192 4183.8 2484.7
 8 Javier Sanso Acciona 19°03.57'S 28°30.70'W 8.8 308° 3.4 8.2 197.8 4255.9 2556.8
 9 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 17°16.78'S 37°23.12'W 1.6 349° 1.4 9 215.9 4318.3 2619.2
 10 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 25°52.06'S 37°11.38'W 15.3 16° 15.2 15.1 363.1 4793.7 3094.7
 11 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 31°02.30'S 38°19.04'W 12.3 32° 12.1 12.1 290 5104.7 3405.6
 12 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 43°41.51'S 41°03.05'W 13.6 37° 13.2 13.4 320.9 5857.8 4158.7
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)            

Our thoughts this morning are with Jean-Pierre Dick who is having to deal with the trauma of having made it so far through this Vendee Globe only for Virbac Paprec 3's keel to snap off in the early hours of this morning, while lying some 1,000 miles SSE of the Azores. It should be remembered that Dick was forced to retire from the last Vendee Globe with rudder problems.

Of course Virbac Paprec is not the first boat to have suffered this fate in past Vendee Globes. In the last race while lying clear second, Roland Jourdain's Veolia Environnement suffered a similar fate when her bulb broke off (as had occurred to Jean le Cam's VM Materiaux with more disastrous consequences at Cape Horn earlier in the race), while the keel on Marc Guillemot's Safran finally fell out of the bottom of the boat (believed to have been on its way south since Safran had suffered a collision earlier in the race) while she was just 680 miles west of Cape Finisterre, ie even further up the race track. However she was able to limp home to take third place.

In fact in a strange twist of fate the third placed boats have lost their keels in the last three Vendee Globes with the end in site, but on the last two occasions their skippers have been 'brave' enough, or effectively have had no other option other than to continue on to the finish. This happened to Guillemot four years ago and in the 2004-5 race to Mike Golding on Ecover.

While most monohulls will simply fall on their side if they lose their keel, IMOCA 60s not only have substantial form stability thanks to their beam approaching 6m, but can be well stabilised by loading up all their water ballast tanks. On modern IMOCA 60s water ballast is brought on board primarily to change the displacement of the boat (adding some 5 tonnes if required) as well as altering fore and aft trim and as a result the tanks are mostly mounted along the hull's centre line, rather than under the gunnels as they typically are positioned to provide righting moment on boats with fixed keel.

It should be noted that Dick hasn't retired yet and one wonders if he and his shore team aren't at least contemplating trying to finish if the forecast looks amenable. Dick might lose fourth place but fifth place is some 1800 miles behind him at present. The boat is compromised in its ability to sail upwind, but more likely Dick will be put off by the strong winds forecast for this week (more on this below).

At the front of the fleet MACIF, currently 470 miles SSE of the Azores, continues to encroach on the high and, if the GRIB files are correct, should be seeing the wind veering into the east at present. The centre of the high doesn't appear to have moved as far east as earlier forecasts indicated it would and because of this Gabart has edged more to the west over the last 24 hours and she is now due north of Banque Populaire. Over the course of today, Gabart should see the wind continuing to veer has he sails up the west side of the high and by this evening the wind is set to move towards the southwest, enabling Gabart to slowly start taking the shift, turning MACIF's bow towards the finish.

Over the last 24 hours Banque Populaire has taken 39 miles out of MACIF's lead, her deficit down to 95 miles in terms of DTF even though on the water she is currently 142 miles to the south of the race leader. While Banque Pop has gained as MACIF has been the first into the high she is also likely to make another small gain as over the next 24 hours the high is forecast to shift south, allowing le Cleac'h to cut the corner around the northwest side of the high more than Gabart will be able.

Yesterday le Cleac'h commented: "I’m fine. We are in the last week of the race. It’s great to know that it is almost over. The conditions are lighter and it’s not bad. The wind will be lighter in the next hours. We are getting into the anticyclone. After that things should go quicker. We’ll have to remain focused and vigilant. About my position on the west, we’ll see how it goes. François is going to slow down but will find some more wind before me. I hope I’ll manage to keep a greater speed, but it will be difficult. I’ll try to remain careful. There is no use to do crazy things just to win a few miles. The wind and the sea are going to be hard. So, we’ll see...I’m not sure there will be that many people on the water in Les Sables d’Olonne because the weather won’t be nice. The boat is going okay, everything went well since the beginning. The boat manages to follow its journey despite the difficult conditions. Unfortunately I don’t have any magical sail for the finish. I hope my sails will hold until the end."

As to the depression that is due to arrive in the Bay of Biscay on Sunday, this is still showing massive winds. This is rapidly moving east across the North Atlantic later in the week following a parabolic course and come Saturday its centre is measuring 944mB, one of the lowest depressions we've ever seen. This is forecast to move over Ireland on Sunday with the forecast showing 40-45 knot winds in the Bay of Biscay from Sunday morning on. If there an incentive for the frontrunners to get in early... It is probably these conditions that will make Jean-Pierre Dick likely to retire into the Azores, however it will certainly provide a lively last hurrah for Alex Thomson.

Thomson will no doubt be sorry for Jean-Pierre Dick but Hugo Boss now looks set to come third in this race (barring disaster). At the latest sched he is 216 miles behind but it could be some time before he overtakes as Virbac Paprec 3, sans keel, is only 1.5 knots slower even through she has been forced to crack off as she can't sail upwind any more.

Back in the South Atlantic, Jean le Cam on SynerCiel and Mike Golding on Gamesa are locked in battle with both boats having held fifth place over the last 24 hours, Golding ahead at the 0400 sched, le Cam at the latest one. At present just 1.4 miles separate the two boats in terms of distance to finish (the same as 24 hours ago). Yesterday when le Cam tacked back to the north, he did so to the west of Golding and at the moment there is some 46 miles separating the boats laterally on the race track. The duo are currently at the latitude of Salvador de Bahia, with wind thankfully having freed them up, veering into the ENE.

Golding reported this morning: "We got the lift last night and so we have been making better progress since then., but in saying that it has been up and down and shifty. I have just changed up to the genoa and maybe regretting it a bit, it is almost too much and I felt I was doing okay on the Solent. But then you lose so much in the change, and then to change back, I think I will leave it for four hours and see how we go on it.

"It almost feels like you can be trying too hard in this situation. Sometimes I feel like I need to just forget about where Jean is and sail my own race, to chill out a bit and let the boat do the work. We are going to be together for a while."

Golding commented on Virbac-Paprec 3's keel loss: "That is really bad news. I feel for Jean-Pierre because he is a lovely guy and really wants to finish this Vendée Globe. He has got so far and really wanted that podium finish."

Behind Acciona and Mirabaud are suffering in northerlies out to the east, while Arnaud Boissieres on Akena Verandas has been doing best up the Brazilian coast although he has since been trapped by a bubble of high pressure just off the Brazilian coast and over the last hour has only managed 1.6 knots...




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