“I'm in Olympic shape. We're in perfect harmony Gitana Eighty and I!” These were Loïck Peyron's closing words with the Paris Race HQ today and revealed the state of mind aboard the monohull in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group. It has to be said that the day had started out very well: “We've been making fairly good headway since last night. The wind has shifted round to a better direction. It's really pleasant even though we still have messy seas and it's very wet on deck. This wind rotation has revealed itself to be a lot further left than the forecasts. We have an average of between 20 and 25 knots and though the chaotic close-hauled sailing of the past few days is virtually a thing of the past, its return isn't really a long way off.” Positioned off Brazil, the leading group has benefited from a temporary E'ly shift of the SE'ly tradewinds, thus enabling them to open their sails and appreciate a few hours of increased speeds. At the 1600 hour ranking, the slight upturn in conditions late this morning seemed to have come to an end though, as the speeds of the top three bare witness, with around 13 knots at present compared with 17-18 five hours beforehand.
However, although the wind shift was clearly on the minds of all the sailors today, there was another cause for concern: the Saint Helena High. After a far from classic Doldrums, this second key passage in the Atlantic also seems a little off colour. Indeed, it is proving difficult to decipher the weather configuration in the southern Atlantic at the moment… The zone of high pressure, positioned off Uruguay for several days, is shifting eastwards and will soon piece back together the Saint Helena High. However the return of a more classic outline will once again favour the chasing pack. In fact, the latter may well be able to save on the miles by rounding the Cape of Good Hope more directly, which is a move the current conditions aren't allowing Loïck Peyron and his closest rivals to pull off. If all this becomes a reality, we may see a further bunching of the fleet, which the skipper of Gitana Eighty confirms: “For the time being, we're heading straight into the zone of high pressure rather than rounding it. What's shaping up won't be easy to overcome. The future situation isn't necessarily the best scenario for those at the front. The negotiation of Saint Helena may well be another tricky passage which will favour those on our tails…”.
After fifteen days of racing, everyone has now got into the groove of the race and are settled into their own routines. The high emotion of the start and the adapting to the first few days is a thing of the past now, and the skippers are presently easing themselves into a quite guarded routine, as Loïck Peyron admitted at noon: “This part of the race, along the Brazilian coast, is fairly routine and it will be the same again on our return. You still have to constantly have your hand to the sheets nevertheless. The point of sail is routine but the manner of sailing isn't.” It is worth noting that certain competitors would have gladly enjoyed a taste of this ‘routine' for a few more days, as was the case for Jérémie Beyou. Victim of a broken spreader yesterday, Sunday, the solo sailor is currently heading towards Salvador de Bahia in Brazil to evaluate the damage suffered to the starboard section of the rig. Once there he will perform a complete assessment of the mast and will decide if he can make repairs himself and remain in the race, or if he will be forced to retire. This heavy blow has been dealt by fate and the sailor has reminded the others about the importance of vigilance, given the considerable pounding these latest generation 60 footers are being subject to.
Ranking on Monday 24th November – 1600 hours (French time)
1. Gitana Eighty (Loïck Peyron) 20,555 miles to the finish
2. BT (Sébastien Josse) 21.8 miles behind the leader
3. Paprec Virbac (Jean-Pierre Dick) 36.2 miles
4. PRB (Vincent Riou) 51.4 miles
5. Brit Air (Armel Le Cléac'h) 53.1 miles