After eight days of racing, the head of the Vendée Globe fleet is already sinking its teeth into the doldrums, which is a belt of low pressure spanning a few hundred kilometres, which wraps around the Earth near the equator. The solo sailors valiantly began picking their way through the mire in the early hours and have since been trying to pinpoint the fast route out of this zone, where it rarely does any good to dawdle.
Round 1, it’s working out to the East!
“There we have it. We’ve entered the doldrums. At daybreak, Vincent (Riou) and I got caught in a squall. The wind rotated through 360 degrees and since then we’ve been pinned to the track. Right now, it’s calm and there are 2 knots of breeze. The sea is glassy with a one-metre residual swell. The sky is colourless and it’s drizzly.” These were Sébastien Josse’s words at the Vendée Live at noon, as he described the atmosphere in which the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild was battling to make headway.
Traditionally more friendly in its western sector, where it has less of a hold theoretically, the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, alias ITCZ, hasn’t yet finished serving up its surprise menu for those who dare to venture into its waters! Indeed, after ten or so hours in the thick of the system, the results are very clearly favouring those on an E’ly trajectory like Hugo Boss, which has managed to maintain some average speeds of 12 knots, whilst its closest rivals have been struggling to exceed 5 knots. This significant differential has had direct consequences on the ranking. Indeed, at 17:00 GMT, the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild had conceded 97 miles to the Briton, compared with 32 miles this morning at the gateway to the doldrums.
Another of today’s smooth operators is SMA which, thanks to a similar trajectory to that of Alex Thomson, is right back in the game in 5th place.
Being opportunist to make headway South
Seeing such hard-fought miles slip away in a matter of hours is naturally annoying for the competitive soul that is Sébastien Josse. That said, the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild, for whom this certainly is not his first negotiation of the doldrums, preferred to put things in perspective: “Since this morning, I’ve changed more sails than I have since the start of the race and it’s not over yet! It’s impossible to know where the wind will kick back in. You have to be opportunist… A squall may form and empty in six hours. Right now, the die is cast… Afterwards, even if we don’t come off well in the doldrums, it’s a long race and there’s time to get back in the game.”
Despite this slow-down, which he’ll naturally be pleased to put behind him, the five-arrow skipper was managing to reap some benefits: “For several days, given the average speeds we’ve been making, it was complicated to go up on deck and check over the boat. However, I made the most of the calm conditions this morning to carry out a good inspection and check that everything was in order. I also treated myself to a nice little shower in the fine rain of early morning…”
According to the latest meteorological estimates the exit lies at around 3°N. Whether you’re positioned a little over to the East or further over to the West, this evening’s slogan remains the same on all the monohulls: it’s important to make the best possible compromise to make headway South.
Ranking on 14 November at 17:00 GMT
1 - Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) 21,658.6 miles from the finish
2 - Armel Le Cleac'h (Banque Populaire VIII) 90.2 miles astern
3 - Vincent Riou (PRB) 95.8 miles astern of the leader
4 - Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) 97.0 miles astern
5 - Paul Meilhat (SMA) 102.9 miles astern
6 - Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) 111.9 miles astern
7 - Morgan Lagravière (Safran) 136.7 miles astern
8 - Yann Eliès (Groupe Gueguiner - Leucémie Espoir) 167.1 miles astern