Hunting The Jackal
In pursuit of Armel Le Cléac'h - also known as 'The Jackal' - who has held the lead of the Vendée Globe solo round the world race since December 3rd, British skipper Alex Thomson has seen his deficit to the French skipper plummet to under 200 miles as the pacemaker slows into a wide zone of light winds.
Although his reputation is as a predator, his nickname was gained on the race courses of La Solitaire du Figaro, the multi stage summer classic French solo race which is the proving ground for so many French Vendée Globe, today the Jackal will feel much more the hunted rather than the hunter. As his chaser holds on to the stronger breeze by virtue of the fact he is behind, and yet to run into the high pressure ridge, today Le Cléac'h will be focused on finding the best exit point, the 'out' door. Meantime the advantage is usually with the hunter, especially if his prey stalls in the lightest winds and Thomson can alter his route accordingly. There is always something of a lottery to the passage of an evolving high pressure ridge like this in the South Atlantic, the system spreading out in each direction, but the outcome may yet prove significant as to who is first the finish line in Les Sables d'Olonne in the middle of January. They say a week is long time in politics, but in this Vendée Globe Thomson might even see a swing from over 800 miles last Friday in the Pacific to well under 100 miles as we go into the last Friday of 2017 in the South Atlantic.
While this forecasted, inevitable slow down of Le Cléach's Banque Populaire VIII occurs at 35 degrees south, Thomson some 950 miles east of Buenos Aires this morning, in third place Jérémie Beyou is passing the Falkland Islands, Jean Pierre Dick in fourth is losing ground to his pursuers Yann Eliès and Jean Le Cam. Conrad Colman is emerging unscathed today from his close encounter with a fearsome depression and Enda O'Coineen - sailing in the wake of Yves Parlier, whose solo, unasissted repairs at Stewart Island are the stuff of legend - is this morning 210 miles to the island off the south of New Zealand where he plans a series of small repairs which should keep him in the race.
This may be an opportunity for third-placed Jérémie Beyou to learn some lessons from those ahead of him. 1300 miles back, he will probably narrow the gap, but above all, he will be able to take advantage of very different weather conditions. Passing the Falklands, Maître CoQ is being pushed along by a SW'ly air stream, which should allow him to reach the Forties very quickly. That is not the case for Jean-Pierre Dick, as StMichel-Virbac has slowed approaching Cape Horn in a disorganized weather pattern. Behind him, the systems are better established giving a helping hand to Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent) and Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir).
Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) is experiencing almost perfect sailing conditions. Downwind sailing, some sunshine, a long swell and practically calms seas. Sailing close to the Antarctic Exclusion Zone, he is being followed 900 miles further back by Nándor Fa (Spirit of Hungary) and Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy), who did extremely well to get away from the storm coming up behind him. The Kiwi has managed to regain 200 miles from the Hungarian since passing New Zealand. Off Auckland Island, the pack has lost one of its members, as Irish sailor, Enda O'Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland) has decided to head north to Stewart Island to carry out repairs and give a thorough check up to his boat before the long Pacific crossing.
Sébastien Destremau (TechnoFirst-faceOcean) is also planning a pit stop. He is at the rear of the fleet with Pieter Heerema (No Way Back), who appears to have finally solved his autopilot problems. As for Paul Meilhat (SMA), he has reached Tahiti and Stéphane Le Diraison (Compagnie du Lit-Boulogne Billancourt) is in the process of mooring up in Melbourne.
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EXTRACTS FROM TODAY'S RADIO SESSIONS
Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée): "It's great. For several days, I have been sailing along smoothly in the Pacific. I'm on the edge of the exclusion zone in a 20-30 knot NW'ly wind on calm seas. It's like being in Quiberon Bay! I have around 1800 miles to go to Cape Horn and got a message this evening from the Chilean safety teams. I'm going to have to gybe to avoid a wind hole forming off Patagonia and will be sailing along the coast of Tierra del Fuego. There won't be much wind when I reach the Drake Strait. In any case I'm getting away from the difficulties of a Pacific, which was indeed very quiet."
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