The advantage switches to the frontrunners
Almost a month of racing has already passed in the Vendée Globe 2008-2009… And whilst the vast majority of the fleet is tracing its wake in the savage seas of the Indian Ocean, the leaders are already imposing their rhythm. The various weather phenomena encountered since the start in Les Sables d'Olonne, on 9th November, had essentially favoured the chasing pack up till now, enabling them to reduce their deficit on the leaders. However, for the first time, it would seem that the advantage has switched to the leaders. As such the coming hours may well enable Loïck Peyron – 3rd at the 1600 hour ranking – and the head of the fleet – to increase their lead over their rivals. What better way to start the week aboard Gitana Eighty?

It's already been four weeks since the sailors in the Vendée Globe took to the open seas and settled into the relative solitude, albeit regularly interspersed by communication with land. Whilst the Nautic (Paris International Boat Show) is in full swing, the link-ups with the fleet bring all the magic of the sailors' daily life to the event. Questioned at today's radio session, the skipper of the monohull equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild shared the past few hours with the large crowds at the show: “All's well aboard! Like you I am in a nautical universe but it's a lot colder! We're slipping along pretty well on Gitana Eighty. We're going to have a small transition to negotiate during the course of the day. The seas are messy but this is enabling some interesting surfing and we can rest a little all the same. Yesterday, we benefited from some very good local conditions. Right now the sea is choppy with 3 to 5 metre waves, but it's set to calm down. There's a mass of birds which clearly love flying around in the boat's wake. Doubtless our passage through the water brings whatever there is to eat around here to the surface. Further away I can see the albatrosses, which glide slowly past with their fine flying skill. It's fabulous!” The spectacle is clearly living up to the reputation of the southern seas and is much appreciated by the skipper from La Baule. Another point of note this Monday is that care is today's watchword. Loïck Peyron is resting and if you look at the average speeds of the leaders over the past few days, it is more than reassuring to see that the skipper of the monohull in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group is saving his strength and hasn't forgotten that in order to travel far, you have to be sparing of most the steed and the rider!

Settled into a course taking them eastward onto Heard Island, the next course mark to be respected, the trajectories of the leading group have split every which way to gain easting. As such, the first in the line, Jean-Pierre Dick, is positioned to the south, whilst Yann Eliès is the furthest north. On a less extreme option than the current leader, the skipper of Gitana Eighty is also seeking refuge in a southern route whilst the evolution in the weather seems to have decided to give the frontrunners the advantage for once. Loïck Peyron confirmed this tendency: “Over the coming hours, the wind is set to ease and clock round to the right. We're going to have to gybe. The advantage of our position is that the further south we are, the less we will be affected by the calm conditions. We're going to have a bit of work on our hands first though and then we'll link up with the downwind conditions”. The competitors positioned at the front of the fleet will therefore be able to make up some ground during the course of the day, thanks to a ridge of high pressure which will be especially active over the boats towards the tail end of the fleet, dishing them up some light airs.

A week ago, Loïck Peyron was openly questioning himself about what rhythm to maintain in this 6th edition of the Vendée Globe 2008. It has to be said that since the start, the pace has continued to accelerate, leaving certain competitors perplexed. The skipper of Gitana Eighty has found a way of working aboard a latest generation monohull which suits him and exploits the boat's true potential: “You notice that to be at the front, you have to go fast, in as regular a manner as possible. I've rarely had the opportunity to sail downwind in breezy conditions aboard Gitana Eighty. The learning process on this subject is underway and it's going a lot better. I've been compelled to get used to the environment pretty speedily. You have to go to great lengths to achieve this but that's the name of the game!”

Ranking on 8th December – 1600 hours (French time)
1. Paprec Virbac (Jean-Pierre Dick) 16,576 miles from the finish
2. Veolia Environnement (Roland Jourdain) 35 miles from the leader
3. Gitana Eighty (Loïck Peyron) 52.9 miles
4. BT (Sébastien Josse) 57.3 miles
5. Ecover (Mike Golding) 73.9 miles

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