This decision will have to be taken by early this afternoon, if it hasn’t already been taken. Not as tricky as the Canaries, it essentially concerns the main island, as Porto Santo and the Desertas are not so affected. But avoiding one means moving away from the others by at least fifty miles to the east or 100 miles to the west. Not only is this a tricky decision due to the wind shadow, but also because it is where they have to choose which route to take afterwards.
The main priority for the fleet is to reach the trade winds around the Canaries, which have separated from the Portuguese trade winds because of the ridge extending from the Azores high towards Gibraltar. On Tuesday afternoon this barrier developed just in front of the leaders blocking their high-speed route towards the south. The wind backed westerly during the night and even SW’ly for a few hours and there is an area of lighter winds in front of them. This was not what was forecast on Monday morning, when Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) and to a lesser extent, Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac) decided to head for the coast of Portugal, where they were expecting to find more wind.
The situation changed yesterday when this ridge of high pressure stretched towards Morocco. The coastal route was blocked, as the breeze backed westerly. The trade winds were not there for the moment and so the fleet scattered 200 miles from east to west with Paul Meilhat (SMA) opting for the west and Irish sailor, Enda O’Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland) heading east. The French racing experts who are used to strategic battles in the Solitaire du Figaro did not take any risks and are sticking close together: Armel Le Cléac’h is leading the way followed by Paul Meilhat with Sébastien Josse, Jérémie Beyou, Vincent Riou and Yann Éliès keeping up with them.
In a ten knot NW’ly air stream the pace will ease off until latitude 35°N where calms will force them to carry out a lot of manoeuvres to get across the ridge of high pressure. The first out of this sticky patch will pick up the Canary Islands trade winds and speed away in a NE’ly, blowing at around twenty knots. These conditions should once again favour the foilers, but those chasing after them are not likely to get held up for much longer.
As for Spaniard, Didac Costa (One planet-One ocean), his restart is delayed, because of the thirty knot WNW’ly winds sweeping across the Bay of Biscay until late this evening. The Spanish sailor will find it hard in any case getting to Cape Finisterre, as there are headwinds forecast until Saturday.
Even if the weather since Tuesday hasn’t been what was initially forecast, the leaders are still ahead of the pace set in 2012. It took four days for François Gabart to get to the north of Madeira. If the fleet makes it across the ridge of high pressure this afternoon, they should accelerate in the coming days with some strong NE’ly trade winds propelling them southwards. We can expect days in excess of 450 miles between the Canaries and the Doldrums, which means that the Equator will be reached not in eight days, as initially forecast, but certainly in less than ten days, a good day and a half ahead of the round the world reference time.
362 miles, 312 miles and more than 300 miles in 24 hours during the first three days of racing for the leader Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII). The pace is fast, in spite of the unstable winds since the start from Les Sables d’Olonne. At this rate, the leaders will reach the Tropic of Cancer on Thursday lunchtime. Speeds are set to increase until the latitude of the Cape Verde Islands with the solo sailors performing well for the next two days in a trade wind that is closer to easterly rather than NE’ly. This means wind on the beam, the favourite point of sail for the new foilers…
From the Skippers:
Kito de Pavant, Bastide Otio: “Yesterday was a quiet day and so I took advantage to tidy my bedroom and sort out the J1. 150 square metres of 3DI takes up a lot of space… I managed to undo the knots and roll it up, so it’s now back in use propelling the boat. I saw my first flying fish. It must have been a bit lost, as the sea temperature isn’t what you find in the tropics, where we usually see them. There was more wind during the night with big gusts, so I had to stay close to the sheets. I don’t know if I should say this but I have beaten my record for the length of time racing in the Vendée Globe! And it’s not over yet. What’s happening on the other side of the Atlantic? Trump or Clinton? Please reassure me!”
Alan Roura, La Fabrique: “The first couple days were a bit tough with the start and the parade through the harbour entrance. Not much time for sleep with the need to keep watch with so many cargo vessels. But I’m pleased so far with my race. I’m not doing too badly. I’ve never had so much stuff aboard. I’ve been listening to music and getting meals. I’m trying to avoid watching what the others are doing. I’ll be going between Madeira and the Canaries. There’s a fight on with Rich (Wilson), but Enda is doing well too. I’d like to catch Nandor and Attanasio. But Attanasio is fast. I think I’m getting 85% of the boat’s potential, as I’m playing it safe. The boat is 16 years old, so I’ll only push her once we are downwind.”
Louis Burton, Bureau Vallée: “I’m easing into the pace. It wasn’t easy on the first night with unstable winds. On the second night, I made a mistake off Portugal, but there’s a long way to go. I went for an easterly option, as I thought it would be harder to the west. But the ones that chose the latter option have come off well. I’ll be trying to sail east of Madeira, but if that means getting too close I’ll head for the west instead. I’ve had a few little worries with the ballast tanks and a hydro-generator. But in general, it’s not too bad.”