Vendée Globe: Doldrum Decisions

With the light air of the doldrums rapidly approaching, the fate of the foilers, who have led the fleet so far, is at stake.
hugo boss
Alex Thomson leads the fleet on Hugo Boss, and will likely be the first to sail into the doldrums. Photo Cleo Barnham / Hugo Boss / Vendée Globe

Clearly there is a difference of opinion. But Hugo Boss looks set to see feel the Doldrums effect first. From this afternoon, when the breeze is forecast to fall away, there looks to be about 150 miles of lighter winds to negotiate. Speaking this morning Le Cleac’h said he is not happy with the way he has sailed since the Cape Verde Islands: ” Until the Cape Verdes, it was perfect for me, but after that there was a stretch, where thing weren’t trimmed right. But that’s behind me now. I’ve got things under control gain and we’re off again.”

Are they going to have to work hard to get to the Southern Hemisphere? Yes, if you look at the day that lies ahead, in particular this afternoon, when speeds are likely to be down below five knots for the most seriously affected. Not that hard if you examine the bigger picture, as the way through the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone is relatively narrow at between 120 and 140 miles for the frontrunners at between 27° and 28° west. The first seven boats are aiming for this point and are within a hundred miles of each other with in order Alex Thomson, Sébastien Josse, Vincent Riou, Armel Le Cléac’h, Jérémie Beyou, Morgan Lagravière and Paul Meilhat. Five foilers and two with straight daggerboards (PRB and SMA). Sébastien Josse has achieved the best perfomance over the past 24 hours, managing to make it to second place.

Can we look forward to the race starting all over again on the other side of the Doldrums? It’s not impossible. Especially when we see that at 0300hrs UTC this morning (Monday) Hugo Boss is still in front, but her speed has been dropping steadily and is down to below 10 knots, while just thirty miles back, the two boats battling for second place, Edmond de Rothschild and PRB were at 14.5 knots. There is a hold up ahead and the frontrunners are the first to be impacted. This is even more likely as Alex Thomson attempts to head further west, while the two chasing boats gradually swing around … Armel Le Cléac’h told us this morning that he hadn’t yet seen any nasty clouds and reminded us that four years ago, he was out in front at this point in the race “before we all got back together at the Cape of Good Hope.” So in other words, any gap that currently exists may well be insignificant in the near future.


There is a good chance of compression occurring as the group behind – Yann Elies well clear at the front of Thomas Ruyant, Jean Le Cam and Jean Pierre Dick – are all quickest this morning and will hold the breeze at 15-20kts.

In the second part of the fleet from 15th back, the fear is that they will have a much harder time getting across the Doldrums. If the Zone starts to expand, we could see an important split… but that is not certain to happen either. While the skippers talk about pleasant sailing at the moment, we need to keep an eye on the positions in the coming hours, as it looks like there are tricky hours ahead for those in front.

Didac Costa doesn’t need to worry about that for the moment. Sailing off Southern Portugal, the Catalan skipper is making the most of the fine conditions with strong winds (25 knots) enabling him to clock up the miles. As for Tanguy de Lamotte, he is just 40 miles from Mindelo and has slowed down to 7 knots in order to arrive during the day. He will drop anchor and climb his mast to attempt repairs later this morning. He is about to lose his 16th place to Conrad Colman.

Gitana Team


Sébastien Josse shares the view from onboard the foiler Edmund de Rothschild Sébastien Josse/Gitana Team

What the Skippers are Saying:

Bertrand de Broc (MACSF): “The conditions are magnificent. The moon is up and the sea is calm. We’re sailing in shorts and T-shirt. I’m 80 miles off the Cape Verde Islands. This is the first calm night for three or four. I have a slight technical problem, which prevents me from hoisting certain headsails. I’ve got some work to do, but apart from that, everything is fine. The Doldrums don’t look too nasty at first sight, but I’m not certain, as I remember saying that before and then found myself becalmed for 12 hours or so, so I still have my doubts.”

Kito de Pavant (Bastide Otio): “It’s a quiet night with less wind and calmer seas, so less water over the deck and there’s a big moon. It’s drier inside. But that does mean that we’re slower too. That is down to sailing downwind of the Cape Verde Islands that I have been working to get away from for several days. Not that they’re unpleasant, but because they are mountainous and tend to shut off the trade winds, which are in any case down a notch, giving an advantage to those out in front. I’ve been looking at the charts to see the best way through the Doldrums, but it keeps changing. There is no magic solution to find this ideal place. You need to study all the weather info, the charts, satellite photos and just get lucky. The leaders will be there today and Bastide Otio the day after tomorrow.”

Rich Wilson (Great American IV): Life is fine. It is 77°F or about 26C, so it is nice T-shirt weather. We have 10-12-15kts of wind. I had a bit of a problem with the pilot and I think I have that sorted but we are being quite conservative at the moment. We are going along nicely towards the Cape Verde Islands staying out to the west. I see Nandor is going through the middle 30 miles ahead. I am not sure what the outcome will be. We will be going a little downwind there may be some lee in the islands but I don’t think he will slowed down for too long. It is still a long, long way around the world. The first couple of days were difficult with the squally conditions, stressful for everyone. We went over 25kts and that is territory which is foreign to me. And I hope it remains so. High speeds mean high risk. I plan to increase my daily average around the world.”


Paul Meilhat (SMA): “The wind has been easing off since yesterday and there are more and more squalls. There is the additional problem of seaweed getting wrapped around the rudders and daggerboard. I’ve stacked everything forward. The skies are looking very dark this morning. Looks like being a long day…”