They have gone from relaxing mood music to the Ride of the Valkyries. There has been a clear acceleration since passing Madeira on Thursday morning and the seven frontrunners have covered almost 400 miles in 24 hours. This pace should continue at least until they get to SW of the Cape Verde Islands at 6°N. Currently 1700 miles from the Equator, they should be crossing into the Southern Hemisphere after nine days, as the Doldrums are looking very kind for them this year. They are not very active and not very wide after 27°W and so the pace should only fall slightly with the NE’ly trade winds and the SE’ly winds on the other side are generating a ten knot Easterly at 4°N/
Out on Thunder Road
The only negative point, in what was looking like an ideal scenario, is the presence of thunderstorms ahead of them. This disturbed area which seems to be moving westwards is likely to affect the leaders this afternoon. This means that the winds will fluctuate in strength and this could be the case until Cape Verde. Those who have not recovered from the first three days of hard work are going to find it tough. Even with one reef in the main under big gennaker, broaching is very costly in time and effort as Jean Le Cam told us this morning…
So are foils still the lethal weapon? The rankings today confirm they are, but with two exceptions. Vincent Riou (PRB) is hanging on to Armel Le Cléac’h’s coat-tails (Banque Populaire VIII) and Paul Meilhat (SMA) on the IMOCA, which won the last race, is holding his own against Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) and Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) at a wider angle from the wind. We should learn more in the coming hours when the frontrunners are away from the wind shadow of the Canaries… Three groups and the ‘Go your own way’ brigade
The route being taken by the leaders appears to see them sailing relatively close to La Palma and Hierro which are only just 150 miles away. The trade winds will not be too affected until they reach the Tropic of Cancer (23°26’N). The frontrunners will be free by then, but Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives-Cœur), only 70 miles from the islands, could be affected and in his wake, Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline) will need to be cautious too.
The Magnificent Seven out in front remain grouped together spreading out only 60 miles from east to west with a distance of just 55 miles between them. Sébastien Josse is the furthest west and Alex Thomson the furthest east. Behind this group, more than a hundred miles back, there is another tightly packed group of skippers, led by Yann Éliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir) which is in a different weather situation, as the trade winds are favouring the leaders. The third group led by Bertrand de Broc (MASCF) is still struggling in lighter winds between Madeira and the Canaries. Already some 300 miles behind, the Famous Five are going to find it hard to get back up there before the Southern Ocean.
A few independent thinkers have chosen to go their own way. In particular, the Irishman who approached the coast of Morocco to find stronger trade winds. Enda O’Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland) will be passing between Africa and Fuerteventura this lunchtime. If this option might look interesting for the weekend, he is going to have to gybe all the way to the Western Sahara… The other non-French skippers are also doing their own thing. Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) was tempted to take a radical routing option for a while, but has now got back to the west, while the Japanese sailor Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh) and the Hungarian Nandor Fa (Spirit of Hungary) accompanied by Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Étamine du Lys) are weaving their way between Madeira and the Canaries. Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy), the only one to go between Madeira and Porto Santo, is attempting to follow the Famous Five. Once they reach the Equator, this little procession should stretch out over a thousand miles.