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Vendée Globe: Around the Bend

The foilers about to be put to the true test as they hit the Roaring Forties and point their bows toward the Southern Ocean.

November 18, 2016
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Sébastien Josse onboard Edmond de Rothschild is in a heated battle with Banque Populaire for second place. Jean-Marie Liot/DPPI/Vendee Globe

A day away from the centre of the thundery low-pressure area leaving Brazil, the leaders are beginning to feel the effect. The trade winds are swinging around more to the north and the frontrunners are gradually pointing their bows towards Gough Island, which marks the way into the Roaring Forties and the Southern Ocean. The foilers should see their speedos go wild in these ideal conditions, as they head down towards the Indian Ocean… while those chasing them and the pack are going to be suffering in fading trade winds.

The leaders off Cape Frio are going to have to deal with the wind backing from the east to the north over the next 24 hours. This will affect their choice of sail. A reef in the main and gennaker to have an angle of attack of around 130° in winds above twenty knots. Logically, these conditions should favour the foilers, which should see speeds above 23 knots… Heading for a record

On decent seas with a northerly air stream in place now for several days, the swell will push the boats along allowing them to accelerate with days of 500 miles or more expected this weekend and they could threaten the 24-hour record set by the previous winner of the Vendée Globe (François Gabart with 534.48 miles). You only rarely find better conditions, as the Indian Ocean tends to be a bumpier ride and the Pacific is still a long way off… This is an ideal opportunity to stretch your legs and gain a real advantage over your rivals.

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For the foilers, this is an opportunity to get away from Vincent Riou (PRB) and Paul Meilhat (SMA), who have so far managed to keep up the pace aboard their monohulls with straight daggerboards. With a wider angle, Alex Thomson is that just bit faster than the French, thanks to a different type of foil and a narrower hull. The skipper of Hugo Boss has been the fastest over the past two days and is already 2° of latitude down the two boats chasing him, which are neck and neck: Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII) and Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild).

This morning a new area of low pressure coming out of the Bay of Rio is dragging behind it a 20-25 knot northerly wind off Vitória, but by this evening, a second deepening low will develop (995 hPa) with 30-40 knot winds blowing around its centre on Saturday evening. The tricky part is going to be finding the point of entry. Not too far south to avoid getting too much wind, not too far north to be able to get to the Forties sooner. Remembering that they have to leave Gough Island marking the start of the Antarctic Exclusion Zone to starboard (40°19’S-9°56W).

Tactics and strategy

As they came out of the Doldrums the magnificent seven out in front were not exactly on the same route stretching out some sixty miles from east to west. As they moved south, their course has come around in varying degrees. Alex Thomson chose to head for the strongest winds in the low diving south to find himself downwind of the fleet. He can therefore choose the best angle of attack for the next three days while placing himself in front of his rivals. On the other hand, Armel Le Cléac’h unable to keep up the same pace, got overtaken on the outside by Sébastien Josse, 100 miles further east. His position further off the coast of Brazil has meant he has been able to turn to accelerate, while Le Cléac’h and Vincent Riou have to luff to keep up their speed.

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Edmond de Rothschild is therefore able to slide in front of her rivals, but is unlikely to wipe out her deficit of two and a half degrees of latitude in comparison to Hugo Boss, but Josse may well be in second place as they dive down into the Southern Ocean. As for Morgan Lagravière (Safran) and Paul Meilhat, they can only follow the track taken by those ahead hoping to make it in time to catch the express train to the deep south. More than 300 miles back from the leader, Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) will find it even harder to get in position to ride this low.

A major turning point

In any case, they are all having to deal with what is thrown at them as best they can. More than a day and a half back (Yann Éliès), or even two (Jean Le Cam, Jean-Pierre Dick, Thomas Ruyant) or three or more for the pack that has just come out of the Doldrums, the skippers are going to be in different winds this weekend. Behind the second low coming out of Brazil, which is nudging the St. Helena high and squeezing it, the trade winds will be shifting more to the NE off Salvador da Bahia, but will be considerably lighter down to twelve knots or so on Sunday morning.

The situation will only get worse over time, as this change in weather patterns in the South Atlantic will have a serious consequence on the winds. A second area of high pressure will be developing ahead of the chasing boats off Cape Frio. It is no longer just a tiny split developing between the skippers, who manage to hop onto the low and those who are left waiting, but as we said yesterday, it’s more like the Grand Canyon. The closest skippers who just miss out will be the worst hit, as they will see the leaders extending their lead, while the pack is drawing nearer from behind. Stuck at the crossroads in these weather systems, it is going to be hard for the sailors to find a way out off the islands of Trindade and Martim Vaz… This turning point towards the Cape of Good Hope looks like being a major turning point in the race itself.

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Times to the Equator

1-Alex Thomson: 9d 07h 02′
2-Armel Le Cléac’h: 9d 09h 56′ 2h 54′ after the leader
3-Vincent Riou : 9d 10h 24′ – 3h 22′ after the leader
4-Sébastien Josse: 9d 12h 01′ – 4h 59′ after the leader
5-Paul Meilhat: 9d 12h 49′ – 5h 47′ after the leader
6-Jérémie Beyou: 9d 16h 49′ – 9h 47′ after the leader
7-Morgan Lagravière: 9d 17h 30′ – 10h 28′ after the leader
8-Yann Éliès: 10h 01h 17′ – 18h 15′ after the leader
9-Jean Le Cam: 10h 10h 17′ – 1d 03h 15′ after the leader
10-Thomas Ruyant: 10d 16h 15′ – 1d 09h 13′ after the leader
11-Jean-Pierre Dick: 10d 16h 51′ – 1d 09h 49′ after the leader
12-Kito de Pavant: 11d 03h 59′ – 1d20h 57′ after the leader

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