Vendee Globe: Last blast

Banque Populaire and MACIF up to 19 knots

Saturday January 26th 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

The Vendee Globe leaders are now up to warp speed and are making 19 knots towards Les Sables d'Olonne as Jean le Cam and Mike Golding are into the northeasterly trades of the North Atlantic and Dominique Wavre and Mirabaud are just about to cross the Equator.

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 45°17.80'N 13°39.28'W 19.3 87° 19 13.8 332 502.2 0
2 Armel Le Cléac'h Banque Pop 44°19.07'N 15°46.12'W 18.7 83° 18.4 13.8 332.4 604 101.9
3 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac 36°11.54'N 28°49.82'W 11.9 85° 10.3 10.2 244.7 1357.5 855.3
4 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 36°26.63'N 29°19.52'W 11.7 111° 6.6 11.3 265.8 1368.5 866.3
5 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 06°17.50'N 32°12.52'W 13.1 343° 9.6 11.2 269.3 2897.5 2395.3
6 Mike  Golding Gamesa 04°44.92'N 31°11.56'W 12.1 347° 9.8 9.6 230.8 2956.8 2454.6
7 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 00°08.78'S 31°11.06'W 11.5 355° 10.3 13 312.5 3227.7 2725.6
8 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 04°11.06'S 32°16.66'W 11.2 34° 10.9 11.8 282.4 3477.2 2975
9 Javier Sanso Acciona 07°12.11'S 29°43.60'W 11.6 359° 10.9 11.3 272 3595.6 3093.4
10 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 10°48.34'S 32°12.47'W 9.5 9.3 8.2 196.6 3848 3345.8
11 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 16°54.26'S 32°58.92'W 1.2 14° 1.2 5.2 125.7 4208.2 3706
12 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 31°19.58'S 31°28.85'W 10.4 67° 6.6 10.3 248.2 5007.8 4505.6
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)            

Yesterday morning the race leaders, MACIF and Banque Populaire, spent the day heading northeast, neatly sidestepping a ridge extending north from the Azores high. In the afternoon they gybed for the finish line and overnight have experienced the southwesterly wind increasing ahead of the front associated with a mean looking depression (944mB) way out to their northwest.  With the wind now up to 30 knots and set to build further, so the leaders are in for a fast run home, already up to 19 knots. At this speed, their ETA at the Les Sables d'Olonne finish line is around 1000 GMT, although their speeds will get up into the 20s as the wind builds further.

It will be a fitting end to an exceptional Vendee Globe that Gabart and le Cleac'h will get to have a final boy racer day of massive speeds and large cajones sailing just before they finish.  

Yesterday Gabart said: "I’m doing fine. We’re enjoying good sailing conditions, with 20 knots of wind. We had 25-30 knots earlier. Armel should gybe before I do, he’s facing weaker winds. I understand the last tack to the finish will be very difficult, with a very rough sea. We’ll need to hurry to get the boat in the port because I heard it is going to get even worse later.

"I’m still focused on the race and the strategy, I don’t really think about the finish and the constraints of life on dry land once I’ve arrived. I have very good people around me, they will help me deal with all that. I know it won’t be easy and I’ll have to be careful, but I don’t dread it, I’m very happy I’ll get to experience that.

"I love the Vendée Globe and the finish is part of the race. It’s going to be unique! I had prepared myself for this race, I haven’t been surprised much so far, I guess it means I was well-prepared. But there are still things that I wasn’t expecting, which is good, it would be quite sad otherwise. Sailing is all about adapting to what is going on and to the changing conditions." 

His rival le Cleac'h added: "This Friday has been good so far, we’re getting closer to you all. We’ve had pleasant conditions since this morning, with about 20 knots of wind. We need to enjoy those last few hours of nice conditions because it will get worse soon. It will be complicated to catch up with MACIF, especially with what the weather forecasts are saying. Unless François has a problem with his boat, it will be very difficult to catch up with him. But I need to focus on my race.

"We’ve started to think about the finish because of the phone calls we had to organise things for the finish. I’ve been through that before so I know what will happen but the emotions are always different. I know it will go very fast and the transition will be a brutal one. People on dry land will be very demanding, they will ask a lot of questions, we’ll have to deal with all that.

"I understand that the weather will change in 24 hours, with tougher sea and wind conditions. We’ll need to be extremely careful in the last hours of the race. Traffic will be an issue too, I’ve seen a dozen cargo ships last night and this morning. Fishing boats go out at sea even when the weather is bad, so we’ll watch out for them. My routing software says I should cross the finish line on Sunday, in the middle of the afternoon. I just hope I’ll arrive before the tide makes it impossible for me to enter the port."

Behind Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss is technically up to third, but the race and the prospect of high tailing it towards the finish in favourable southwesterly have wisely taken second place to shepherding Jean-Pierre Dick on keel-less Virbac Paprec 3. Thomson has changed his position to be closer to Virbac and in weather conditions where he should be making similar speeds to the leaders, he has his foot off the throttle making 10 knots. 

“Jean-Pierre  is coming in to stronger winds so I guess we’ll find out how stable it is for him when he reaches them," said Thomson yesterday. "I hope he proceeds with caution and finds a way to finish the race. If I’m asked to assist him, I’ll help him in any way that I can.

"It looks like it’s going to be windy on the route to Les Sables d’Olonne but it certainly won’t be as bad as it was three or four days ago. It’s still looking like the winds are going to be quite strong, with 30 knot gusts. The Bay of Biscay is a quite dangerous place, especially in a winter storm with the continental shelf and deep waves. It’s not going to be very pleasant for sure.”

Jean-Pierre Dick has said he will leave it until tomorrow (Sunday) before making a decision to retire or not. Yesterday he said: "Tonight, I’ll face more wind, I will have my first impressions of what it is to sail the boat without a keel in such conditions. Apart from that, things are fine onboard, the sails are in good shape.

"It feels a little bit like sailing a dinghy or a multihull, you lose stability as soon as you have more than 30 degrees of heel. You need to be extremely careful and it’s important to keep the boat flat. I am sailing with a much reduced sail area and the water ballasts full.”

To prevent the boat capsizing,Dick is sailing Virbac Paprec 3 as flat as he can with the aim of heeling no more than 30° and preferably a lot less. 

Behind Jean le Cam on SynerCiel and Mike Golding on Gamesa are now on starboard tack heading north across the northeasterly trades with some 1100 miles more of the same to go until they get to round the Azores high. At present the forecast indicates that the weather just might prove more favourable for these two than it has for the leaders with the high centred further southeast allowing them to cut the corner more, providing a runway of favourable southwesterlies that could get them directly most of the way to Cape Finisterre. Of course this is the long term forecast and its unlikely to pan out like this. 

This morning Golding reported: "I’m in footing mode right now and it is very bumpy, I am just crashing around a bit and it is going to stay like this for a while and so I had better get used to it! It is very difficult for me to see how I am going to catch Jean, I did it before by making strategic choices and so I have to wait until I get that chance again. Meantime it is very frustrating but I am pragmatic about it. It does look messy further on but my problem such as it is at the moment is trying to land a decent sized weather file because at the moment we are crashing so much that the link cuts off, so I can only get small files. Tactically there is not much I can do.

"This is not a great point of the race when the winner is getting close and finishing, because you just want to get there and get off at this stage. I have to say I don’t like it, but I have some time to adjust to it.

"I had a nice e-mail from Alex Thomson which, among other things, acknowledged that if they had not inserted the Crozet Gate he would have been back here with us, which is a nice thing to say. He has sailed well and I am sure will keep his feet on the ground, on the level about his race. We both now just need to bring it home safely. I believe I can get Jean but that would be a bonus at this stage, I need options."

Dominique Wavre on Mirabaud is set to become the seventh Vendee Globe boat to cross the Equator this morning. He is lining up for a Doldrums crossing slightly to the west of le Cam and Golding. The three boats behind Wavre are now finally into the easterly or ESEerly trades and are now making solid progress north. 

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