The seven leaders now have nothing in common with the twenty other boats. Sébastien Josse has just taken second place from Armel Le Cléac’h and Morgan Lagravière has moved up to fourth ahead of Vincent Riou. Out in front they are sailing downwind averaging more than twenty knots, but in the pack, they are upwind and sailing at half that speed.
At the front
In the middle of the South Atlantic, around a hundred miles north of the island of Tristan Da Cunha, the leader Alex Thomson is sailing at a wider angle from the wind than his close rivals around ninety miles to his north. In this area, as they approach the Roaring Forties (Hugo Boss is at 34°S),the 25-knot northerly wind is offering an ideal angle for fast sailing, with boats averaging 20-21 knots. It is more a less a draw this morning between Sébastien Josse and Armel Le Cléac’h. 85-90 miles behind Hugo Boss in terms of distance to the finish, they are taking it in turns in second place with the advantage this morning for the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild. The broken starboard foil on Hugo Boss does not appear to be too much of a handicap for Alex Thomson in these conditions. While yesterday he gave up between 30 and 50 miles to those chasing him, the gap has stabilised now at around 100 miles. Armel Le Cléac’h luffed during the night and has moved closer to the route taken by Sébastien Josse, while we should stress what a great weekend it was for Morgan Lagravière. He has just taken 4th place from Vincent Riou. Safran is sailing a bit faster (21.1 knots on average over the past 24 hours in comparison to 19.8 knots for Hugo Boss) with Morgan Lagravière sailing 505 miles. In this group of leaders, the other rookie Paul Meilhat has also been fast (488 miles) but only Jérémie Beyou has sailed more than 500 miles, 504 to be precise. From 4th to 7th, they are nevertheless still 164 and 284 miles back from the leader. Conditions remain (very) favourable for the seven frontrunners at least until they get to the Cape of Good Hope, where they are expected on Thursday. This group seems set to increase its lead before having to deal with a transition area at the end of the week… before they can set off across the Indian Ocean with a new high speed train thanks to another low pressure system moving in.
Yann Eliès is ahead of the pack by more than 250 miles, but well behind the seven leaders. Jérémie Beyou at the rear is 430 miles ahead of him. 720 miles back from leader, the skipper of Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir is attempting to squeeze through a vein of wind by heading further east at around 16 knots. He would like to limit the damage before entering the Southern Ocean, but Yann knows that he will probably be two days behind at the Cape of Good Hope.
Pack split in two and sailing upwind
There is not one, but two packs after a fortnight of racing. Slightly north of the latitude of Rio de Janeiro, there are four boats between 970 and over 1400 miles from the leader. This group formed by Jean Le Cam, Jean-Pierre Dick, Thomas Ruyant and Kito de Pavant has clearly been held up at the traffic lights. They are now sailing upwind and forced to manoeuvre to find a good angle to continue to advance at between 8 and 14 knots. They do not have any other choice but to wait until they catch the next low to cross to the east of the South Atlantic. Kito de Pavant (Bastide-Otio) joked about it this morning: The sky went dark yesterday evening. Suddenly the trade winds, which were getting increasingly light, gave way to a southerly wind and rain, and we found ourselves heading into nasty choppy seas. We had to stow the downwind sails and switch to headwind sails, fill the ballast tanks, put down the daggerboard, cant the keel to try to deal with these southerly head winds. We’re heeled over, slamming… all that to get to an area of calms several hundred miles in front of us. We have no choice but to cross it…There’s no escape. But it least it isn’t so hot. I even wore a t-shirt during the night.” At the Horn of Brazil, the second half of the pack is dealing with a stationary front while waiting for the fast train south, and for them, there is no point watching the rocket ships at the front. But they are battling it out amongst themselves sailing upwind from 13th placed Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée), 1640 miles back from the leader and 19th placed Nandor Fa (Spirit of Hungary), 150 miles further north. We can also see the following skippers in this group : Arnaud Boissières, Stéphane Le Diraison, Conrad Colman, Fabrice Amedeo and the Japanese sailor Kojiro Shiraishi. Contests and dreams at the rear
If we look back 1800 miles or more from the frontrunners, the adventurers and skippers aboard older boats are making progress too. They are out of the spotlight, but on a voyage of discovery or there to fulfil a dream. There is a group of three that has formed with the American Rich Wilson and the two French sailors, Romain Attanasio and Eric Bellion, who have so far sailed between 14 and 15% of the race course as opposed to 22% for the leaders. They know it is going to be a long hard slog, but when we talk about Vendée Globe heroes, they too are part of the story. From 23rd place back, there is no point in worrying about the rankings, if they ever had that intention. They are between 2000 and 2800 miles back. Pieter Heerema, Alan Roura, Enda O’Coineen, Sébastien Destremau and Didac Costa are doing it their way, at their pace, but are still happy about this great adventure marking a high point in their lives. That too is part of the magic of the Vendée Globe.