Day 35: A Game of Two Halves.
Thomson Halves Deficit, Meilhat, Béyou Halfway.
The fact that the time and distance that separates Alex Thomson from race leader Armel Le Cléac'h has more than halved in 24 hours is of little real consequence to the British skipper as he sets up for the strong winds brought along by a second successive low pressure system and then a messy area of high pressure thereafter.
The track of the depression has altered enough to force the French skipper, who has led the Vendée Globe now for over one week, to gybe and move back to the north-east. As he slants back towards the course of his British rival, Le Cléac'h's margin has reduced again, from a comfortable 195 miles last night to 80 miles this Sunday afternoon.
But Thomson is unmoved by the gains. It is the outcome after this new low, which is of more interest.
Speaking as he emerged from a brutal two days in the Tasman Sea and the Pacific, this afternoon, still in a ‘mere' 30kts of breeze, he outlined:
“We just have to look and see what the situation is like after this second low. Armel is a little further east than me, so he should cross through it quicker, but then he will be held up in the middle in the light airs like me and then it depends on the wind angle when we all come out. I think where we are at the moment is irrelevant. We have to look further ahead.”
Some 1,200 miles behind perennial leader Le Cléac'h, both third placed Paul Meilhat (SMA) and Jéremie Beyou passed the theoretical midway point of the course today. Jean-Pierre Dick (St Michel-Virbac) and Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent) have crossed Cape Leeuwin. Passing in eighth in 34d 07h 08m Le Cam is exactly three hours faster than the race record pace set by François Gabart in 2012. At 57 years old on the optimised Farr design which won the Vendée Globe as Foncia in 2008 and triumphed in the last Barcelona World Race when he raced with Bernard Stamm the redoubtable, incorrigible Le Cam is four days and 9 hours quicker than his time on Synerciel in 2012. Dick is two days and one hour faster than in 2012.
Living the dream
Finishing the Vendée Globe is the universal dream, even if the actual expectations and aspirations among the 22 skippers still racing, are wildly different. At the back of the fleet Sébastien Destremau is back at peace with his own world. After 36 hours trapped in a doldrums-like calm, his ‘office' - as he refers to his 1998 IMOCA, which started life as Josh Hall's Gartmore and went around in 2008-9 as Steve White's Toe in the Water – is trundling along at 10kts in a good NW'ly breeze. Destremau was resplendent in T-shirt and shorts, enjoying regular coffee breaks on his aft ‘patio', despite the fact that he is sailing in the Roaring Forties, in fact at 41 degrees south. Destremau passed the first of the Vendée Globe's three biggest milestones, the Cape of Good Hope, at 1430hrs UTC this afternoon, about 17 hours after Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys) who – because he had to return to Simon's Town to repair his rudders – has crossed the Cape of Good Hope twice!
It was only in May last year that Eric Bellion, at 39 years old, sailed seriously on his IMOCA 60 for the first time. Helped by Michel Desjoyeaux's Mer Agitée and the young British skipper Sam Goodchild – who joined Bellion on Vendée LIVE today – Bellion took on a tentative Transat Jacques Vabre last autumn in the Finot-Conq designed former DCNS. It is not Bellion's first time around the world though. When he was 26 he sailed around on a tiny 8.6m boat, and has subsequently skippered a number of ocean sailing initiatives which highlight the values of inclusion and diversity. This Vendée Globe started relatively steadily for Bellion but now he is living every element of his dream, even down to an enforced rudder repair.
“At the start, I didn't really care about the race itself, I just wanted to be in harmony with the sea and my boat. It was so difficult to find my rhythm and my pace. The Vendee Globe doesn't fit in with my expectations. I knew it was something crazy and I knew it was a long way around the planet… I knew many things. Now though I feel very, very lonely and I've only covered a third of the race with all the rest of the planet to go. It's not something you can imagine unless you experience it and when you're racing in it you feel so vulnerable and weak up against nature and the sea. Anything could happen, you could collide with a whale, have electrical issues… There's always a big depression on its way, the clouds are tricky here and the swell is huge, which tells me I have to be very careful and find a pace that's reasonable for me. The race is something huge and crazy and in other ways it's incredibly beautiful. I am enjoying myself too though.”
And veteran Nandor Fa's race goes steadily from strength to strength. He finished fifth in the 1993 edition of the race and retired in 1996 but his dream of a third attempt at the Vendée Globe stayed on hold while he raised his daughters and built a successful marina pontoon construction business. He largely designed his own IMOCA and oversaw the build, doing much of the work himself. But he has had many bumps on the road to the start line, not least having to all but rebuild the hull because of a structural issue with the wrong specification of carbon fibre. Consequently he ran very late with his entry to the last Barcelona World Race. And in the last Transat Jacques Vabre he was dismasted early on.
But right now the Spirit of Hungary skipper, 63 years old, is absolutely in his element, seizing every opportunity with both hands. A transient sniff of the top ten, momentarily ranking ahead of French rival and sparring partner, Stephane le Diraison, who is only 14 miles ahead, Fa is pressing hard, averaging 17kts.
“I am going out to race. I am a racer. I love speed and going fast,” warned Fa pre-start to anyone who inadvertently mentioned him in the same sentence as other skippers aged north of 60."
THE 1700 UTC RANKINGS
Eric Bellion (CommeUnSeulHomme): “It's not something you can imagine unless you experience it and when you're racing in it you feel so vulnerable and weak up against nature and the sea. Anything could happen, you could collide with a whale, have electrical issues… There's always a big depression on its way, the clouds are tricky here and the swell is huge, which tells me I have to be very careful and find a pace that's reasonable for me. The race is something huge and crazy and in other ways it's incredibly beautiful. I am enjoying myself too though. I'm sailing downwind and I just gybed near the exclusion zone making 15 to 20 knots. I only discovered solo sailing last year and it was my first solo sail in an Imoca in May!”
Thomas Ruyant (Le Souffle du Nord): “I was fairly well spared at the start of the race but I've had a few issues since I arrived in the Indian - that's just how it is at the moment. The boat's back up to 100% now though. I was up the mast this morning fixing the lazy bag and I have a few odd jobs to do but nothing very important. The cars, the battens and the leak are all fixed now but I can no longer use the original system for filling my ballast tanks. I've rigged up another tube system but I'm yet to test it. If that fails, I'll have a go at using the bilge pumps so there are a few options. I'm on port tack right now so that's not really a concern at the moment but psychologically it's difficult to know there's an issue there. I have 30 knots of breeze and I'm making 20 to 25 knots of boat speed under small gennaker and a slightly reduced mainsail. Now that my lazy bag issue is resolved I'll be able to hoist more sail area as there are no gales forecast. In the coming days, I'll have a westerly wind so there's lots of gybing on the cards.”
Fabrice Amedeo (Newsrest Matmut): “We are being escorted by albatrosses and a lovely ray of sunshine, which is magical and physical. We've been hit by 2 fronts in the past 48 hours with 40 knots of breeze, which has been good and the best reward the ocean can give us. It's enabled us to dry out the boat a bit, which was getting very wet.”
Alan Roura (La Fabrique): “I'm in seventh heaven! I'm among a group of talented sailors and I'm doing really well! The Indian Ocean is a bit hard, a bit temperamental and you have to learn to understand it and play with it. It's what I was expecting. Nothing's changed on the boat. She's in the same condition as she was at the start and that's the objective I set myself. To download a grib file takes 1hr and everything's slow. I'd love to be able to show you what's going on around me and it means I can't see the videos from my family either. There are several races within the race, between the leaders, the old hands battling with the rookies. It's incredible! The sailors are making very different strategic choices, which makes for an incredible race.”
Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée): “After my encounter with all types of dolphins in the Atlantic and a whale to welcome me into the Indian, on Saturday morning it was the turn of a raft of penguins to come and greet Bureau Vallée! Once I'd got over the joyous amazement at seeing these creatures I said to myself: "but wait, usually a penguin doesn't swim for long does it? Oh my g…! That means there's ice around!” Just thought I'd share my morning anxiety with you… clearly this is not a race like any other. And if anyone knows anything about penguins, I'm all ears! Thanks in advance!"
Jean-Pierre Dick (St Michel-Virbac): “For some it's the tube, work, sleep and for me it's manoeuvring, eating and resting.”
Kito de Pavant (Bastide-Otio): “I'm making the most of my sightseeing tour, which is pretty special aboard the Marion Dufresne with the albatross around us. It's been tough for me all this and I feel tired. Psychologically it's tough. I wasn't expecting things to pan out like that. It's very rare. I've also lost 8 kilos since the start of the race, but the cook on-board reckons he's going to fatten me up again! Fortunately, I'm lucky to have partners who are supporting me and trusting in me. There's a real sense of solidarity and it's motivating me to find solutions. I've received hundreds of messages!”
Alex Thomson (GBR) Hugo Boss: “I still have 30 knots of wind. It's coming more from the south now, so I'm heading more towards the low pressure, aiming to go through the top of it, out the other side and into some warmer air hopefully. We just have to look and see how the situation is evolving after the second low. Armel is a little further east than me, so he should cross through it quicker and then be held up in the middle in the light airs the same as me and then it depends on the wind angle when we come out. I think where we are at the moment is irrelevant. We have to look further ahead. I have no problems right now. The boat is good except for a few little leaks. Much as I am not looking forward to going on the non-foiling side (port gybe) it will be nice to be on port and getting some warm air.