Vendée Globe: Benchmarks and Breakdowns

Alex Thomson leads the Vendée Globe fleet into the southern hemisphere, while other skippers deal with technical problems aboard.
Hugo Boss
Thomson has set a new benchmark for reaching the Equator in the Vendée Globe by a full 9 days. Cleo Barnham / Hugo Boss / Vendée Globe

Since passing into the Southern Hemisphere last night, setting a new reference time for the passage from Les Sables d’Olonne to the Equator, British skipper Alex Thomson has continued to gain small miles against the closest rivals who are chasing him, Armel Le Cleac’h and Vincent Riou. The trio on top of the Vendee Globe solo round the world race are well into the SE’ly trade winds and Thomson’s Hugo Boss appeared to be showing a slight speed advantage in the 15 kts reaching conditions. Tanguy De Lamotte is heading north, back to Les Sables d’Olonne, solo and unassisted and will not finish his second Vendee Globe. The French skipper decided that his masthead damage represents too great a risk to take his Initiatives Coeur into the Southern Oceans and left Mindelo yesterday evening, he is making 6.7kts northwards this morning.

Thomson’s new benchmark time is 9 days 7 hours 02 minutes, one day and four hours faster than the previous best time set in 2004 by Jean Le Cam. Thomson and the lead group benefited especially from favourable conditions across the Bay of Biscay since the start on Sunday 6th November, good reaching all the way to a smooth, quick Doldrums passage. There have also been huge improvements to the IMOCAs over the years, whether they have foils or not. Thomson is the first British skipper to have led the race at this early milestone. Hugo Boss crossed 2 hours and 54 mins ahead of Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII), 3 hours and 22 mins ahead of Vincent Riou (PRB). Four hours and 59 mins later, Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) crossed and 5 hours and 47 minutes later than Hugo Boss it was Paul Meilhat (SMA).

Thunder and lightning

As for Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ), he moved into the Southern Hemisphere just before the 0400 hrs rankings, followed by Morgan Lagravière (Safran) off to the east. The first ten boats managed to get away from the Doldrums and are now on their way to Recife in the SE’ly trade winds, blowing moderately around the Equator (10-15 knots) but which are already stronger for the leaders (18-22 knots). On the other hand, between 8°N and 4°N, the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone is tending to shrink and the pack are not all slowed down that much, even if there is thunder and lightning in the area.


At 27°W, it looks like there is a crossing point, where the Doldrums are not very active, which should enable the skippers to maintain average speeds above 6 knots, as is the case for Kito de Pavant (Bastide Otio), Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée), Bertrand de Broc (MACSF) and Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline). But further back, it is not clear whether the conditions will be as favourable, even if it gets a bit easier once the sun has risen, as this allows them to spot the big dark clouds.

Finally, around the Cape Verde Islands, Irish sailor Enda O’Coineen (Kilcullen Voyage-Team Ireland) is getting away from the disturbed air, while Sébastien Destremau (TechnoFirst-faceOcean) is attempting an unusual route between the islands and the continent. Meanwhile, Tanguy de Lamotte has set sail from Mindelo. The skipper of Initiatives-Cœur has not officially retired, but is heading back to Les Sables d’Olonne under reduced sail.

Vincent Riou/PRB


The battle for second between PRB and Banque Populaire has remained close. Vincent Riou/PRB

Technical Troubles

As the leaders accelerate in the SE’ly trade winds in the Southern Hemisphere, several other skippers are reporting technical problems, which they are trying to resolve as best they can. Jérémie Beyou is being held back by autopilot problems, while Conrad Colman had to cut up his steps to deal with a leak in the hydraulic system.


Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ): “I’ll be crossing the Equator just before 0400hrs UTC. The wind strengthened as the sun went down and I now have a 14-knot SE’ly and it is set to strengthen further as the day goes on. We’re heading for Brazil, and then there’s a front, which should take us a long way… The trade winds will be backing easterly and we’ll be able to accelerate. So for the moment it’s a race towards Recife. Since entering the Doldrums, I have had a lot of problems with the autopilot. I had already had problems with my first two since the start in Les Sables d’Olonne, so I had to get through the Doldrums without an autopilot. I’m now on to my third, as the first two have a problem with the electronics… With the wind astern in 25 knots, it was a bit hairy as we kept bearing away. Fortunately there was no damage. I really have to find a solution.”

Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy): “I’ve just entered the thundery area marking the start of the Doldrums. Fortunately there’s a big moon up to light everything up. I still have some wind (10-11 knots) allowing me to continue southwards. It’s hard to know how long it’s going to last, but for the moment, it’s not looking too bad, but it is harder for those following me. I have people all around me. I had some repairs to do yesterday with the hydraulic system which cants the keel.”

Enda O Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland): “I have yet to hit the Doldrums, though by each degree south it’s getting warmer and the winds are getting lighter. Around 0400 hrs I got a small shock. I was napping and was awoken by a series of muffled bangs on the port side. I quickly hopped up in the cockpit to investigate. I found nothing and went back to sleep, wondering. It was later that morning, as the mid-day sun gets hotter, I picked up a funny smell, which led me to discover several dead flying fish cooking on deck. A shoal of flying fish, had committed a ‘ kamikaze’ attack’ on our ship, to no avail.”