Short-lived calm spell
The Indian is roaring in the wake of the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild. A tropical low, rolling in from Madagascar, is bearing its teeth. In addition, it's set to join forces with the energy of another system, this one of Argentinean descent, currently sweeping up the fleet from West to East. Over the past 24 hours, Sébastien Josse has continued to reduce his deficit in relation to the top duo. At 14:00 GMT this Saturday, the skipper in third place in the Vendée Globe 2016-2017 was making headway 547 miles shy of the Le Cléac'h-Thomson pairing. However, his average speed has dropped in the last few hours. Indeed, the skipper from Nice is making the most of a spell of calm to ready himself for a gale, the first of the race, whose initial smoke signals it may well be possible to detect by the early hours of tomorrow.
In the immediate future, the skipper of Gitana Team has less to worry about than the solo sailors who are making headway a few hundred miles astern of him. Indeed, for some of them, it's not a good idea to remain on the same track as this low pressure system, as is the case for Yann Eliès (Queguiner Leucémie Espoir), who's made the decision to ease off the pace so as to let the worst of the storm go by him.
Calm before the storm
Aboard the latest Gitana, the generous conditions for slipping along at speed, filmed yesterday, Friday, by the cameraman aboard the French Navy helicopter, this morning gave way to moderate conditions with an average speed that has dipped below 10 knots in the past four hours. This short-lived calm spell, skirting a zone of high pressure that will quickly make good its escape eastwards, is enabling the skipper of the five-arrow stable to give the boat a thorough check and make sure everything is ready to go once the Indian explodes with anger. Already, the Meilhat-Beyou duo that is sailing over 650 miles astern of Gitana 16, are set for a few painful hours later today and into tonight. After that point, it'll be Sébastien's turn to brace himself for a sharp acceleration under the influence of these winds blowing in from the Tropics. Inevitably, conditions will then worsen still further on Sunday through into Monday.
Looking at the weather charts further down the track, the sailors are watching the eye of a massive low pressure system - a second such phenomenon - which is rolling across the South Atlantic and into the Indian Ocean. When this system encounters the front that has dropped down from the North, a virulent low pressure system will form and then head towards Cape Leeuwin (SW tip of the Australian continent). This clash of phenomena will give rise to the most powerful gale the Vendée Globe competitors have had to negotiate since setting sail on 6 November. After a month at sea, during which time the boats have been powered along at high speed and the sailors have naturally been put to the test physically, the start of this coming week will require the utmost caution. On the programme, the grib files are announcing winds of around 35-40 knots, gusting higher, as well as 5 to 6-metre waves.
Ranking on 3 December at 14:00 GMT
1. Armel Le Cleac'h (Banque Populaire VIII) 14,139.5 miles from the finish
2. Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) 9.4 miles behind the leader?
3. Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) 547.5 miles behind the leader
4. Paul Meilhat (SMA) 1,216.2 miles behind the leader
5. Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) 1,247.1 miles behind the leader ?
6. Yann Eliès (Queguiner Leucémie Espoir) 1,726.3 miles behind the leader
7. Jean-Pierre Dick (St Michel - Virbac) 2,044.0 miles behind the leader
If you haven't yet seen them, here are the images from the French Navy and Nefertiti Prod, who flew over the Mono60 Edmond de Rothschild some 160 miles offshore of the Kerguelen Islands.