The Azorean branch point
The Azores archipelago has been a good indicator of the strategic choices made by the twelve trimarans: whereas Lionel Lemonchois and his routers sought to move away from the islands and adjust his trajectory, last night didn't go quite so well for some of the other solo sailors. As for Thierry Duprey du Vorsent, he is managing quite nicely and increasingly getting to grips with the tempo of solo racing …

The night passed off well for the leader of the Route du Rhum, Lionel Lemonchois, who could even afford the luxury of five consecutive hours' beauty sleep!! With his batteries duly recharged, he should now be able to take full advantage of the favourable weather conditions over the coming hours, as it was at dusk on Wednesday that Gitana 11 slipped smoothly between the islands of Terceira and Sao Miguel. "It's the first time I feel like I really slept. It wasn't planned but I needed it and it turned out to be just at the right time!" confirmed the skipper.This trajectory and the sailing conditions proved perfect, since the skipper benefited from a north-easterly breeze of around fifteen knots to cross the archipelago without any real disruption. Less than five hours later, Lionel Lemonchois was gybing in a northerly rotating wind on the western side of the Azorean low-pressure front. This excellent manoeuvre has allowed Gitana 11 to strengthen her position as leader and her position at the furthest south-western point. But most importantly, it allowed the skipper to physically recuperate after three and a half days of intense racing, before moving onto the trade winds route and its not-so-stable winds…

Lionel's sleep was extremely welcome and promises a new burst of speed during Thursday. There are no two ways about it: the trajectory conceived by Sylvain Mondon and Yann Guichard, perfectly adhered to by Lionel Lemonchois, has enabled the blue trimaran, designed by Marc van Peteghem & Vincent Lauriot Prévost, to sail under extremely favourable conditions. Moreover, shifting slightly to the south after emerging from the Channel meant that he encountered a little less unstable wind by keeping in perfect weather timing, whereas the other trimaran skippers were faced with conditions more difficult to manage in solo format (small squalls, sudden accelerations, unexpected windless zones…).

With over one hundred miles between him and his trio of pursuers (Michel  Desjoyeaux, Pascal Bidégorry and Yvan Bourgnon), Lionel Lemonchois is not about to ease up but rather to put his foot down on Thursday in order to hammer home the psychological advantage that remains the most effective weapon in solo sailing. The Gitana 11 skipper should thus be able to change tempo as the entire fleet will align itself on the same route: the aim will then be to combine the maximum amount of rest while analysing the speeds of his pursuers in order to accelerate or consolidate according to the gaps. Because a priori, there are no real tactical coups on the cards: this Route du Rhum is all about pure speed and mental strength.

Lionel Lemonchois : "It's far from over. There are 1,700 miles 3 days we'll have a clearer picture. If I look at my computer now, at my current speed of between 30 and 33 knots, I should be in Guadeloupe in 2 days! Seriously though, I think we can envisage arriving in 3-4 days. Everything is fine on board, the situation is a little simpler even if I still have one eye on the guys to the north. We still have to negotiate what they call the gull's wing on the anticyclone as we approach Guadeloupe. We'll need to avoid getting caught in the calm air of the anticyclone by taking a flat V trajectory!"

Where Gitana 12 is concerned, the plan has been adhered to: Thierry Duprey du Vorsent was not totally content with himself at dawn on Thursday, but nevertheless remains bang in line with his initial strategy. No risky tactical strokes, no unsustainable or even dangerous rhythm for a newcomer to solo sailing, no preoccupation with the gap that has built up after three and a half days' racing. After all, Thierry is gradually finding his feet and sailing neck and neck with Claude Thélier and Antoine Koch along a very clean route across the Azores which could even place the Swiss Stève Ravussin in difficulty, as he has headed off far to the north, over 250 miles from the pack!

The Gitana 12 skipper also plans to gybe in the wake of the leader in the middle of the day when the Azorean islands will be well and truly in his “rear-view mirror”. Then, the temperature of the water and air, which have been rising steadily over recent hours, will become even milder, the sun will again be shining behind the front to be crossed in the evening and the trade winds will bring with them their shoals of flying fish. Such simplicity washes away worries very effectively…

Thierry Duprey du Vorsent (Gitana 12):
I've had a few problems finding the right rhythm, but I'm getting there now: I'm starting to settle down and to sleep more regularly. I'm eating normally and this solo experience is teaching me a whole host of things. I'm trying to think positively and it's good that I'm going at the same pace as other skippers such as Antoine Koch, Claude Thélier and Stève Ravussin. Above all, I'm concentrating on my trajectory and my physical condition in order to conserve some energy right up to the finish. After all, it's still 2,000 miles away!
As the days pass, I feel more and more in tune with the boat and with the race. Of course, I'm gobsmacked by the pace of the leaders and full of admiration for what Lionel Lemonchois has done right from the start at Saint-Malo… So far, the weather conditions haven't been that tough at all: our main problem is to stay in good physical shape in order to last the course. So to sum up, things are going well onboard Gitana 12 and what with a wind of fifteen knots gennaker up at daybreak and the fact that I'm going to pass Terceira around 10:00, I'm having a great time! Talk to you soon…”

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