Day 17: The Vendée Globe dilemma and Riou retires
The phrase 'the rich get richer' has rarely been more fitting than when describing the current state of the Vendee Globe fleet in the third week of the solo round the world race. The gap between the seven frontrunners and the 21 skippers trying desperately to keep up with them has turned from a gully into a chasm.
Since the fleet crossed the start line in Les Sables d'Olonne, France, on November 6 it has become splattered across the Atlantic stretching from the leaders in the east just a few days from entering the Southern Ocean to the caboose still north of the Equator. Life could not be much better for those at the head of the fleet, with winds of more than 30 knots transforming their 60ft yachts into waterborne rockets blasting south east at top speed. The frontrunners, led by Alex Thomson's Hugo Boss, are due to arrive at the Cape of Good Hope, the southern tip of South Africa and the gateway to the Southern Ocean, on Friday, four days ahead of schedule.
The only one in that leading group not smiling is 2004/5 Vendee Globe winner Vincent Riou, who retired from racing today with damage to the keel of PRB. Frenchman Riou had been in fifth, the highest placed non-foiling boat, when he discovered fatal damage to the part of the boat that connects the keel to the hull.
But while the rich get richer it stands that the poor get poorer. And those in the middle of the Vendee Globe fleet are among the hardest up, snared by the St Helena High with little sign of her relinquishing her grip. "It's something of an understatement to say it's a bit tough," explained French sailor Kito de Pavant, languishing in 12th place almost 2,000 nautical miles off the pacesetters. "I've been stuck in this wind hole since yesterday evening, and I can't do anything about it." At the 1400 UTC rankings the Bastide Otio skipper was making just five knots, a stark comparison to the 22 knots third-placed Armel Le Cléac'h was racking up. De Pavant is not alone in his troubles - ninth-placed Jean Le Cam is 1,400nm behind the lead and only marginally quicker at seven knots, while Jean-Pierre Dick in tenth could also only muster five knots. "Of course it's not the Champs-Elysees with lots of joy on board," StMichel Virbac skipper Dick confessed. "I'm quite nervous that I'm losing more distance to the leaders but I can't do anything now. I just have to wait, do my best, and be better than Jean Le Cam and Yann Eliès. The next couple of days I'm going to go to the south so I can get more wind. At this speed I will need a lot more time to go round the world. I'm going to go very south and try to catch the new depression in the right position."
Hungarian sailor Nandor Fa was also resigned to spending more days than planned trying to forge a path though the South Atlantic's anticyclones. "It's getting very complicated," he said. “There's a huge high pressure system in front of us and it's very difficult to decide which way to go. On the other hand it's quite simple because there's no way to go south. We must go south east as long as we have wind."
Still in the northern hemisphere, Spanish skipper Didac Costa on One Planet One Ocean is now 3,260nm adrift of the leaders, meaning he is trailing by a greater distance than the 2,700nm he has sailed from the start. It might be a huge distance but Costa remains upbeat in 27th. "I have started to look at the positions reports more often and, although the distance with the boats ahead is enormous and the wind conditions are different, it is encouraging to see that you gain some miles on the others," he said. "It motivates you to push the boat even more and trying to get her best performance."
A second sailor retires
Riou was tonight making for Cape Town, South Africa, some 1,000nm to the east, to carry out repairs to PRB before sailing back to France. In a cruel twist of fate the damage occurred on the 14th day of racing, the exact same point he was forced to retire from the 2012/13 Vendee Globe. He is officially the second skipper to retire from the Vendee Globe following Bertrand de Broc who also suffered keel damage earlier in the race. Tanguy de Lamotte is sailing back to Les Sables with damage to his mast but has not yet retired from racing.
For more information about Vincent Riou retirement see here.
THE 1800hrs UTC RANKINGS
Tracker and daily rankings (6 times a day)
0400 / 0800 / 1100 / 1400 / 1700 / 2100 hrs UTC
> View the complete rankings.... here + THE MAPPING
EXTRACTS FROM TODAY'S RADIO SESSIONS
Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy): "If the back half of the fleet has been imprisoned by an expansive bubble of light and shifty winds, we need to be thankful for our beautiful jail cell. Its got fresh air, sunshine, plenty of time for exercise and my one even has John Butler on in the background! Don't get me wrong, my competitor's heart yearns for the thrashing the boys are getting at the front but the sailors proverb "you can't change the wind but you can adjust the trim of your sails has never been more true. We might not be going 20 knots like the others but we're certainly enjoying our slow motion battle even if it feels like we are sailing through treacle. It has been a bitter pill to swallow watching the guys run up from behind but I have benefited from the compression to get closer to Louis and Arnaud so we'll now enter the next phase of the race with a big group that will have a battle royal in the Indian Ocean and beyond."
Didac Costa (One Planet One Ocean): "The Southerly wind – precursor of the SE trade winds that mark the end of the Doldrums - arrived last night. Before, during the day and the first part of the night, it was difficult to gain nm with very light winds and isolated squalls. During a period of calm I took the opportunity to dive and remove the remainder of the seaweed that was wrapped around the propeller. We had crossed an area with a lot of seaweed the day before. To remove those that are hooked on the rudders; I use a batten with a thin rope and a lead at its end. I get on quite well thanks to a technique that we developed with Aleix during the Barcelona World Race, but when they get caught in the propeller, there is no other choice than to furl the headsail, get into irons and try to go backwards. I had to do it a couple of times because, with the seaweed hooked up, the vibration transmitted to the engine is considerable and quite disturbing. The second time I did it, the seaweed did not completely disappear and I started wondering if it had been doing that noise before and had not noticed, if it was normal or not normal, etc. When I dived, I took the last piece of seaweed off and both the noise and the worry disappeared. With the sheets well trimmed and the new wind gradually strengthening we should be crossing the Equator sooner than later and so changing hemispheres. Les Sables d'Olonne is a long way away!"
Morgan Lagravière (Safran): "We're in a race trying to get as far to the SE as we can, trying to find strong winds and a good angle. In this situation, the further in front you are, the faster you are. All of our group took advantage to step up the pace and get away from those chasing us. Vincent (Riou) and Jérém (Beyou) got overtaken by the front. Staying ahead of the front meant getting the best angle. Behind it, the seas are rough. But surprisingly even ahead of the front it wasn't that pleasant. It's hard to get 100% out of these boats. But at least it's better than for those behind who are slamming into the seas."
Stéphane Le Diraison (Compagnie du Lit – Boulogne Billancourt): "The strategy today is very complicated. The group in front got around the high. We've got a huge ridge of high pressure without any wind. So we have the choice of trying to get around the sides or waiting for the system to move off. So for the moment we're going along this ridge hoping it will move south, so we don't get caught in it. The good thing is the weather is fine, but on the other hand, we're not making any progress. We won't be getting any new wind for 48 hours. Then there's a second high moving eastwards, which could be another hurdle for us. We're not likely to se any real wind until the end of the week. For 48 hours I was alongside Conrad Colman, whom I have known for a long time. He was my pacemaker there. My boat is better suited to stronger winds. We went our own way this morning. I got ten or twenty miles or so in front."
> Listen to all of the radio sessions.... here
> Download the photos in HD format directly from the photo server (access via the press section).... here
Conrad Colman - Foresight Natural Energy
Rich Wilson - Gret American IV
> Download the videos in HD format directly from the video server (access via the press section).... here
HOW TO FOLLOW THE RACE
All of the pictures and programs will also be available on the video server www.vendeeglobe.tv