“Last night, there were storm squalls everywhere… as a result of a small neighbouring cold front!” This situation has not prevented Loïck Peyron from getting the very most out of his steed though. Indeed, at today's first ranking – that of 0500 hours -, the skipper of Gitana Eighty had again clawed back some precious miles from his closest rivals. Six hours later, it was another position report and another tone, since his pursuers, and Sébastien Josse in particular, had snatched back the miles they conceded overnight. In short, though the hierarchy remains virtually unchanged in the leading group, with the exception of the arrival of Brit Air in the top 3, the deficits shrink and stretch at the mercy of the courses they each choose. This isn't really very surprising given that the conditions encountered seem to differ with just a few tens of miles of separation!
At midday, the monohull in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group was benefiting from a clearer horizon but was still suffering from cross seas, which the ship's captain would willingly change: “The wind is still fluctuating just as much as before in terms of strength, but the squalls are gradually giving way to greyish skies. I haven't got sunshine yet, far from it, but we may well be heading towards a clearer spell” explained Loïck Peyron, before describing the state of the “playing field”: “For the past 24 hours, the sea really hasn't been very kind to us. On the nose and crossed… the seas are making life aboard complicated. You constantly have to hang on and watch every move you make in the boat. The current sea state isn't as big or as powerful as that which we encountered in the Bay of Biscay during the storm of the first hours of racing, but it is considerably more unpleasant. It's heeling, slamming and wet!”
In these conditions, the 60 foot monohull becomes an immense resonance chamber, with a constant mix of the sounds of the hull slipping through the water and of the waves impacting; a noisy atmosphere in which the skipper of Gitana Eighty didn't hide his difficulties in getting off to sleep: “The past 24 hours certainly haven't inspired me to take any long siestas in my bunk. However, that's not such a bad thing as the numerous shifts in the wind require my presence on deck, which would leave me little time to sleep anyway.”
But why such a meteorological brain-teaser?
The direct course, also known as the great circle route, would require the solo sailors to make a course of 120 (ESE), whilst currently the instruments are indicating values of between 167 and 191° (S). To make it simple, the weather is forcing the competitors leading the Vendée Globe 2008-2009 to fend off the Saint Helena High by going right around the outside. Positioned to the south of the ‘group of nine' for the time being, the zone of high pressure is heading slowly eastwards. As such, those who might be tempted to get too much easting in their course might well get their fingers burnt in the high pressure of the phenomenon; a misfortune synonymous with light winds and long hours or even days becalmed. Faced with this situation, Loïck Peyron and his rivals have no choice but to drop due south as they wait for the opportunity to be able to hit the unsettled W'ly air flow from the lows of the southern hemisphere and are finally able to make headway to the east: “We have a real barrier in front of us! For the time being, we don't have any choice. We're all set for the big loop but you still have to keep a constant eye on the zone of high pressure and respond quickly should the latter end up being milder!” After 16 days of racing with daggers drawn, this sentence bears witness to the continued lucidity of Loïck Peyron, which will be paramount in negotiating this tricky section.
Ranking on Tuesday 25th November – 1600 hours (French time)
1. Gitana Eighty (Loïck Peyron) 20,263 miles from the finish
2. BT (Sébastien Josse) 13 miles from the leader
3. Brit Air (Armel Le Cléac'h) 43.7 miles
4. Paprec Virbac (Jean-Pierre Dick) 45.7 miles
5. PRB (Vincent Riou) 52.1 miles