Trade wind drag race
With Madeira yesterday, the Canaries today and the Cape Verde archipelago tomorrow, the skippers in the Vendée Globe are ticking off a quick succession of islands on the route down to the Doldrums. After a particularly intense start to the race that proved to be highly demanding for the sailors due to the instability of the conditions and a trickier weather pattern than forecast, the next three days should enable the solo sailors to take a bit of a breather. That said, it's rather a stretch to say that it will be restful given that they're now embroiled in a drag race down to the equator. Inevitably, aboard these particular Imoca monohulls, speed rhymes with discomfort and dampness more than ever. At the 14:00 GMT ranking, Sébastien Josse was positioned in 6th place some 55 miles shy of Le Cléac'h Riou, who managed to break away from the rest of the fleet last night. Positioned over to the West of the leading pack, on paper the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild should benefit from a better angle to the wind to tackle the long tack down to the S-SE.
With squalls, a ridge of high pressure and wind shadows the complexity of the 60-foot Imocas, their proximity on the race zone, all coloured by the weather scenario that has played out over the first days of racing, this has been a demanding start to the round the world race, as testified by Sébastien Josse: “Given that we set sail downwind in fairly mild conditions, there is little separating the trajectories and speeds of the boats. It's a close-contact race and it should remain like that for some time to come. Since the start, the atmosphere has been more reminiscent of a “Solitaire du Figaro”, with a lot of sail changes, each of which take at least an hour to complete. The descent of the North Atlantic is dictating this pace and if we want to be in the leading pack then we need to pull out all the stops.” To keep up this pace, the solo sailors have no other option than to be on deck, manoeuvring or trimming: “I haven't slept more than 3 or 4 hours in one 24-hr cycle since the start,” admits the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild.
Late morning today, the sailor reviewed the past 24 hours and notably the miles conceded to his rivals: “Yesterday afternoon, I lost ground - around fifteen miles - after a silly mistake on my part. During a headsail change I didn't set the sheet correctly. All of a sudden, I had to put the boat in reverse for over half an hour to get everything back in order. On the current point of tack the boats post very similar performances. As such, the slightest error directly translates to the ranking. There's nothing dramatic on that score though. At this stage of the race, you need to stay in the leading pack, following that, being in 3rd or 7th place isn't the most important thing in the world ” He goes on: “My positioning further over to the West? It's not a very big separation but I'm happy to be where I am. You have to cast your mind forward to the medium and long term.”
Straight ahead in the trades?
The NE'ly breeze, synonymous with a broad reach and hence an acceleration in pace at the head of the Vendée Globe fleet, has been a long time coming. However, since yesterday, this favourable wind is finally accompanying the leaders and the average speed racked up by Gitana 16 and her closest rivals is evidence of this.
With the wind scheduled to pick up level with the Canaries to reach around 20 knots, the physiognomy of the next three days of racing will be a lot more reminiscent of a drag race with some skilled piloting required. However, the trade wind route is no bed of roses and the negotiation of the numerous islands and archipelagos punctuating the descent down the North Atlantic must all be carefully considered: “I opted to pass a long way out to the West of the Canaries as the wind shadow there is fairly impressive. It's a real barrier across our route. And even by passing 250 miles offshore of it, I could feel the disturbance created by the islands this morning, which amounted to lighter and shiftier winds for a few miles.”
With an air temperature now bordering on 20°C, the sailor had been able to remove a few layers of clothing and was especially keen to treat himself to his first shower since the start; a mere detail for us landlubbers but signs that Sébastien Josse is already into the swing of life offshore aboard Edmond de Rothschild and that he can finally envisage a few minutes to himself.
The good news today is that since yesterday lunchtime the number of solo sailors competing in the Vendée Globe is back up to twenty-nine at sea. Indeed, Spanish sailor Didac Costa, who had to turn back just after the start following a leak from one of his ballast tanks, has finally set sail from Les Sables d'Olonne once more. Six days after the start, the fleet competing in the 8th edition are back up to full capacity then, a fact that is sufficiently rare in the history of the race that it deserves to be celebrated!
At 14:00 GMT, Edmond de Rothschild was lying in 6th position
Some 55.7 miles astern of leader Armel Le Cléac'h
Distance covered over the past 24 hours: 397.06 miles at an average speed of 16.5 knots
Distance covered over the ground since the start: 1,664.3 miles at an average speed of 13.7 knots
Ranking on 11 November at 14:00 GMT
- Armel Le Cleac'h (Banque Populaire VIII) 22,839.4 from the finish
- Vincent Riou (PRB) 7.5 miles astern of the leader
- Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) 47.1 miles astern
- Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) 51.1 miles astern
- Morgan Lagravière (Safran) 52.1 miles astern
- Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) 55.7 miles astern
- Paul Meilhat (SMA) 56.1 miles astern