At the gateway to the Indian Ocean!
Whilst the leaders of the Vendée Globe 2008-2009 are currently making towards the first ‘Atlantic' ice gate, the front that the head of the fleet has been negotiating over recent hours has passed. The ‘calm' sailing on a single tack is behind them and the solo sailors are gradually getting into the gybing. The fatigue, brought about through a struggle with a gennaker that had gone over the side, is now over and Loïck Peyron is in great shape again aboard Gitana Eighty, thanks to some precious blocks of sleep. The skipper of the monohull in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group is still in fourth position and on the attack, which is just as well given the upcoming programme…

A few rays of sunshine, 20 knots of downwind conditions, an average boat speed of 15 knots… this is today's scene as described to his shore crew by a more rested Loïck Peyron: “I've slept well even though we had some swell last night, which wasn't ideal in terms of the noise. I was entitled to some sun this morning and for the past few hours the southern sky has clouded over a little. Gitana Eighty is performing some interesting surfs at times. I'm enjoying slipping along again”. Into the groove, perfectly concentrated on the smooth running of his steed and his own recuperation, the skipper from La Baule is on the outskirts of the Atlantic ice gate, situated to the SW of the Cape of Good Hope, and the first safety measure imposed by the organisers of the Vendée Globe. “I'm going to put in some tacks in order to pass through the gate. This compulsory passage doesn't make any difference strategically. As we couldn't make it on a single tack, even without a gate, our trajectory would have been pretty similar in any case.”

Though this gate is the first the competitors are having to face, others will follow and the precise position of each of them will of course be adapted according to the data transmitted to the organisers by CLS Argos. Indeed, this is the case right now for the next passage mark, the Kerguelen ice gate, which has just been moved around 130 miles further north and 600 miles further west in relation to its original position, so as to avoid a zone where the presence of ice has been indicated. Although this information will upset the trajectories of the solo sailors a little, it has been well-assimilated by all the competitors, including Loïck Peyron: “It's not such a bad thing that the organisation has taken this decision. The principle of an ice gate is to avoid all the ice. I'm happy to see that this is actually the case. It's geared towards everyone's safety and it won't affect the sporting nature of the competition!”

For the time being, the focus is on the first mark, which will only just precede the competitors' entry into the Indian Ocean. With it they will leave the Atlantic in their wake and won't return there for a few weeks, once they've sailed around Antarctica. This is no time for contemplation at the heart of the fleet though, as the future menu appears to be packed full and rather copious… In fact the first gale is already in sight; a phenomenon which is quite normal in these latitudes but will require the utmost vigilance at all times. Indeed, a stormy low originating from Brazil will encounter a cold front level with the roaring forties, which will affect the middle of the fleet at that very point, resulting in some violent winds. Meantime the monohull equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild is likely to have to negotiate this phenomenon midday tomorrow, Thursday, and will be subject to it for 18 hours, through till Friday morning. This system will thus accompany the leaders as far as the new Kerguelen gate. It will involve a 30-40 knot NW'ly wind with gusts of between 50 and 60 knots, according to their position in relation to the system, as well as big seas. In short, it's the kind of spread which the sailors wouldn't normally want to wolf down, though Loïck Peyron isn't quite so sure about that: “I'm going to perform a thorough inspection of the boat prior to this gale, which is a fairly classic phenomenon in this part of the world. I would imagine that everyone will attack this low initially, so as to be able to lengthen their stride a little…” It is worth noting here that the landlord's tour of inspection before battle commences has not yet included a little climb up the mast to change the gennaker halyard, that Loïck Peyron alluded to yesterday, as conditions haven't yet been favourable enough.

In fact there was little change in the rankings at 1600 hours; Sébastien Josse still leading the way ahead of Yann Eliès, who was continuing to gain precious miles on the leader and Jean-Pierre Dick in third. In fourth, Loïck Peyron and Gitana Eighty were 67 miles astern of the British monohull.

Ranking on 3rd December – 1600 hours (French time)
1. BT (Sébastien Josse) 18,232.4 miles from the finish
2. Generali (Yann Eliès) 11.4 miles from the leader
3. Paprec Virbac (Jean-Pierre Dick) 43.2 miles
4. Gitana Eighty (Loïck Peyron) 67 miles
5. Veolia Environnement (Roland Jourdain) 83 miles
6. PRB (Vincent Riou) 85.7 miles

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