Gitana Eighty's race at the front
The fleet of monohulls in the Vendée Globe is beginning its twelfth day at sea and since leaving Les Sables d'Olonne, the competitors in this 2008 edition have been battling in close contact as the 76 miles separating the leader from the 10th placed solo sailor at the 1600 hour ranking bear witness. Controlling the attacks from his adversaries over the past eight days, Loïck Peyron is still in pole position. Of course the passage of the Doldrums has favoured a bunching of the troops, which are gradually making up their deficit. However, the skipper of the monohull equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild remains at the head of the ranking; a position which he is shouldering without pressure and without scruples prior to switching across to the southern hemisphere.

In a fair number of books, the Doldrums is the source of many a tale of daring… though the zone didn't show its usual squally, unpredictable face to the first ten 60 foot Imocas. We could of course speak of the ingratitude of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, which hampered the leaders' progress for nearly 36 hours – forcing them into a slow march through light airs – seems to be more welcoming of their pursuers. However, these are the hazards of this sport which, just like mechanical issues, form part and parcel of a sailor's lot. Indeed Loïck Peyron noted this without the slightest hint of disappointment: “To enter the zone at the front and exit it at the front is always satisfying, as you know you can lose a lot of ground here. This Doldrums is revealing itself to be a lot more favourable to those behind, but it may also prove to be a tricky passage which totally reshuffles the playing cards! This time that wasn't the case.” In addition, though we're witnessing a bunching of the fleet at the front and the grib files seem to suggest the pursuers are in for an easier ride, it is extremely likely that the backrunners would rather change places with those up front as it's always nicer to be ahead.

With the Doldrums now in their wake, the leading group has hit the moderate ESE'ly tradewinds and is sailing upwind towards the equator. A change of pace, accompanied by the formation of messy seas: “Aboard Gitana Eighty, the early morning involved a series of stacking manoeuvres and the dumping of the genoa. This gave me the opportunity to have a good bath at the front of the boat, followed by a shower in the cockpit to remove the salt!”, said the amused skipper of Gitana Eighty, before going on to say: “We're going to spend a fair few days canted over to the right – around a week I'd say – so it's important that the boat is well positioned.” In these conditions, Loïck Peyron gave us his short term strategy: “This new period will be a compromise between speed and heading. We're going to have to get used to the chop and the boat being canted over again, but the next few days will unquestionably be favourable for recuperation, prior to tackling the big turn. The next thing in my firing line is the Saint Helena high. Today things aren't very clear. They are moving and sorting themselves out… but one thing at a time!”

Tonight the monohull in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group should be the first to cross the equator. For Loïck Peyron, nevertheless an experienced hemisphere hopper, this imaginary line separating the two hemispheres of our planet is a rather formal occasion; indeed it is an opportunity to make offerings to Neptune in order to obtain his protection and gain a right of passage through to the southern hemisphere. It should be noted that during the previous edition in 2004, Jean Le Cam crossed the equator in 10 days, 11 hours and 28 minutes, which means a slower introduction to the Vendée Globe 2008-2009. 

Ranking on 21st November – 1600 hours (French time) after 12 days and 3 hours
1. Gitana Eighty (Loïck Peyron) 20,796 miles from the finish
2. BT (Sébastien Josse) 19.6 miles from the leader
3. PRB (Vincent Riou) 33.1 miles
4. Paprec Virbac (Jean-Pierre Dick) 34.6 miles
5. Brit Air (Armel Le Cléac'h) 42.5 miles
Abandons: Groupe Bel (Kito de Pavant), (Yannick Bestaven), DCNS (Marc Thiercelin) and Hugo Boss (Alex Thomson). 

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