Day 16 - No way south for Vendée Globe chasers
The door leading to a fast passage south slammed firmly shut on the Vendée Globe fleet today severing the top seven boats from the rest. While the frontrunners continued to rack up the miles in perfect conditions, blasting towards the Cape of Good Hope at speeds of more than 20 knots, life was about to become miserable for those hoping they could stay in touch.
As forecast, the St Helena High has engulfed the chasing pack in light, changeable winds, condemning those caught in it to days of frustration and slow progress in the mid South Atlantic. The breakaway group, still with British skipper Alex Thomson at its head, continues to forge ahead and is due to reach the Cape of Good Hope, the next waypoint on the solo round the world race and the gateway to the Southern Ocean, by Friday. But the 21 sailors behind the lucky seven must now resign themselves to spending more than three days extra getting to the milestone some 2,000nm away. By the time they reach the southern tip of South Africa they will be more than 2,000nm behind the leaders.
Leading the charge for the ninth consecutive day, Thomson is still registering speeds of more than 20 knots from his yacht Hugo Boss despite losing one of its two foils in an apparent collision two days ago. Even more impressive is that, after initially losing around 50nm to closest rivals Armel Le Cléac'h and Sebastien Josse, over the past 24 hours he has added around three miles to his lead to take it to 85nm. Edmond de Rothschild skipper Seb Josse today gave the Brit credit for keeping the fleet at bay, but hinted that Thomson's time at the front could be limited. "Alex is resisting well, keeping up high speeds at these angles," he said. "He has plenty of wind. But we need to take care of the foils like we take care of the boat. If we're doing twenty knots we're happy, so why push it? We have seen that the boat can reach peak speeds of 25 knots, but now is not the time for that."
From his position in ninth, French skipper Jean Le Cam echoed Josse's thoughts on Thomson's prospects. He said: "I saw that Hugo Boss had broken a foil. It's obvious that the time will come when he has to pay the price for that. So there are six of them contending for victory a fortnight after the start. Statistically, it has to be one of them." Le Cam has problems of his own. Now more than 1,000nm off the pace he is among the majority of the fleet facing days of torment trying to pick their way south through a series of high pressure systems. Their only hope lies in a depression forming in the south west that could bring them more stable winds in a few days' time. The consequences are all too clear for the Finistere Mer Vent skipper. "The gap between the leader and the tail end is crazy," he added. "We're going to be 2,000 miles behind by the time we reach the south. For those behind us, it's going to be horrible."
Unfortunately for American sailor Rich Wilson, the oldest skipper in the race at 66 years old, he is one of those behind Le Cam. "Those seven boats on the other side of what's going to be a massively confusing weather situation for us," the 20th placed skipper of Great American IV said. "There's really no telling what's going to be happen. It's going to be a toss of the dice whether one can get to the south east."
Despite being almost 2,300nm adrift in 25th place, nothing could dampen Irish skipper Enda O'Coineen's mood after he crossed the Equator into the Southern Hemisphere at 1933UTC last night. The 61-year-old reported hearing a loud pop coming from the deck of Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland - but it turned out only to be the noise from the champagne bottle he had opened to toast King Neptune. France's Sébastien Destremau and Spain's Didac Costa are now the only two skippers still in the Northern Hemisphere.
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EXTRACTS FROM TODAY'S RADIO SESSIONS
Enda O'Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland): "This adventure is also a geography class. Early in the morning we will be leaving the islands of Fernando De Naronha to Starboard, some 500 miles off the Brazil coast. It is here that fellow competitor, Frenchman Bertrand de Broc is moored. Sadly, due to a collision off Portugal, his hull is damaged and he decided not to risk the Southern Ocean and withdraw. Bertrand was much talked about in France during a previous race. That was when his tongue somehow got cut and, helped by a doctor on the phone, at sea he managed to sew it back together again. Looking deeper, the islands are a UNESCO listed world nature reserve. You must get special permission to go there. From pictures, the scenery and beaches are amazing There is an abundance of turtles and sea life and an ideal climate - definitely a place for the bucket list for the weekend or even a year? Perhaps do a Robinson Crusoe on it?"
Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy): "Things are fantastic. The weather is beautiful, we've got 11 knots of wind, we're reaching and the sea is completely flat. We're just making our way south in beautiful conditions. It's great to be onboard. It's pretty special actually to be racing next to a friend and competitor at this stage of the race two weeks in. Stephane (Le Diraison) is a close friend of mine; we've known each other since 2009 and we did the Mini Transat together. Yesterday we had a long chat on the VHF, just two friends talking about how the race is going for each one of us. It's nice to have a little camaraderie in this solo race. [My position] is as good as can be expected really. There are still a lot of boats behind me which I'm very pleased and proud about. My plans for the next days are to go like hell. It's a bit tricky with this high pressure system. As the situation evolves, the wind is going to shut down on the south side of the course and we will have to go west slightly. And then around Thursday we will get into more stable winds and we will reform into our normal position and we should be back to broad reaching."
Rich Wilson (Great American IV): "We're making our way south heading just about due south. Things have been pretty stable and everything's going well. We've got about 13 or 14 knots of true wind speed from ESE direction and with that there are pretty moderate sea conditions. We had a couple of minor things onboard the boat that I had to deal with - the hydrogenerator hydraulic stopped working so that was three or four days of trying to figure out a solution for it. I finally did and now it's all solved and the hydrogenerator is working now. Things like that get your attention for sure - one of the things I know about boats at sea is that when a boat needs you you have to deal with it right away, it doesn't matter what your speed is. In the last couple of days I've been able to get more sleep and that's helped a lot so I'm feeling pretty good about things right now. There's a group of 7 boats that got away and they're gone. They're on the other side of what's going to be a massively confusing weather situation right in the middle. There's really no telling what's going to be happen. It's gong to be a toss of the dice whether one can get to the south east."
Jean le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent): "What a race! The leaders are really getting away racing like madmen. It's crazy the gap between the leader and the tail end. We've got a little break here. Jean-Pierre (Dick) is further south. I let him go for a bit. He should be faster than me, but it all depends on the hold ups. We've extended the lead over Thomas (Ruyant). We're going to be 2000 miles behind by the South. For those behind us, it's going to be horrible. The situation was good for the frontrunners. Two days later and the door slams shut. I saw that Hugo Boss had broken a foil. It's obvious that the time will come when he has to pay the price for that. So there are six of them contending for victory a fortnight after the start. Statistically, it has to be one of them."
Kito de Pavant (Bastide Otio): "I'm sailing upwind in heavy seas. It's the result of the low that is propelling the leaders way out in front. We've just got the crumbs they have left behind. After that there is a huge area of high pressure which we're going to have to cross. It's not going to be easy and we'll be losing a lot of time in there during the next 24-36 hours. There's no solution whether we go to the right or left of this zone. It looks less risky via the west. I'm behind where I hoped to be, so I'm going to have to wait for some downwind conditions to get down to the Forties. In any case, I imagine we'll be a week behind by the Cape of Good Hope. But there's nothing we can do about that…"
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