High wire South Atlantic
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) continues to gain on leader Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire VIII) as the leading duo climb northwards and east, but the British skipper's advance has stabilized at around 435 nautical miles behind the Vendée Globe pacemaker Le Cléac'h.
Both are now on the edge of a the same low pressure system which is travelling east. Thomson has just gybed and is in 25kts of SW'ly breeze on his less favored foil-less port gybe. Speeds should remain fairly similar today but weather modelling suggests Le Cléac'h should be slowed again with very little wind as of later tonight. Having been 818 miles behind on Friday evening, the race is back on, and - as Thomson said in his Christmas message from Cape Horn - the passage up the south of the South Atlantic can be the most complicated stretch of the Vendée Globe so far. There is little wind for their climb back up with hardly any along the coast of South America, which means they will have to sail further east but this option is contained to the east by the Antarctic Exclusion Zone which goes north for another 550 miles or so to 40°S. Banque Populaire VIII is only just out of the Furious Fifties sailing this morning at 49° S.
In third place at 480 miles to Cape Horn, Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) does not need to worry about anything much more than going fast on his easterly course, and is expected to pass the Cape tomorrow in the middle of the day more or less two days behind Alex Thomson and four behind Armel Le Cléac'h. He has a relatively comfortable lead over Jean-Pierre Dick. JP DIck (StMichel Virbac) is fast this morning with peak speeds of around 22 knots, but StMichel-Virbac is still 840 miles behind Maître CoQ. Correspondingly Dick has extended his lead over Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir) and Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent), who are now 250 miles behind him.
Now up to seventh place everything is going well for Louis Burton, who is having a remarkable race sailing at fifteen knots in a northerly air stream along the exclusion zone, while the Hungarian, Nandor Fa (Spirit of Hungary, 8th) is in a SW'ly flow. New Zealander Conrad Colman must keep his foot down on the pedal as a big storm is arriving south of New Zealand, but it looks likely he will manage to avoid it.
With the two leaders out of the Pacific, a group of six boats is entering it, passing SE Cape, Tasmania. In the north, Arnaud Boissières has moved up a place and is now tenth, while Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut), who is only 100 miles behind him in terms of distance to the finish is “only” fifteenth. The reason for this is that 140 miles to their south, the international brigade comprising Irishman, Enda O'Coineen (Kilcullen Team Ireland, 11th), Frenchman, Eric Bellion (CommeUnSeulHomme, 12th), Swiss sailor, Alan Roura (La Fabrique, 13th) and the American, Rich Wilson (Great American IV, 14th) are sailing at slow speed. They should be able to accelerate this morning after slowing down for 48 hours sailing under reduced sail to get the timing right to avoid the worst of the big storm ahead of them.
A thousand miles or so behind them, Spaniard Didac Costa (One Planet, One Ocean, 16e) is the fastest of the four at the rear of the fleet, sailing at fifteen knots. Dutchman, Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) has lost a lot of ground sailing a long way to the north, as he struggles with his autopilot. He is still trying to find a solution to get back to real racing. Finally, Romain Attanasio, 18th, has had better days. He is sailing in more manageable conditions after three rough days, with the wind down to 25 knots instead of forty knots, but the skipper of Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys has a small technical problem. His masthead unit is not working and so his autopilot is not receiving any wind data, which for a solo sailor is a real problem. Just under 180 miles behind Romain Sébastien Destremau (TechnoFirst-faceOcean) is bringing up the rear of the fleet.
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