Successful ascent aboard Gitana Eighty
A month ago to the day, the thirty solo sailors in the Vendée Globe 2008-2009 set off from Les Sables d'Olonne. Today, whilst the remaining fleet amounts to just twenty-four pretenders to victory now, the first monohulls are now sailing in the deep south, bound for the Kerguelen Islands which were still some 900 miles away at midday. Thanks to a favourable transition at the front of the fleet, there are now six 60 foot Imocas making up the leading group. Among them are Loïck Peyron and Gitana Eighty, who are still in fourth place at the 1600 hour ranking, 50 miles astern of the leader.
To picture the various atmospheric descriptions from the different sailors contacted at the link-up this Tuesday 9th December, the ‘Land of Shadows' – an expression used to refer to the southern seas – is certainly living up to its name… An idea confirmed by the skipper of Gitana Eighty:Our environment is an immense nuance of grey! I haven't seen the sun for days and I'm certainly missing it a bit! You have to just grin and bear it though as it's far from over.” Added to this nuance of grey are some temperatures worthy of the winter months. Indeed, though the thermometers differ slightly from one monohull to the next according to their position on the race zone, none of them displayed figures in excess of 8°C air temperature and 5°C for the water. You can easily understand that in such conditions, the solo sailors are seeking to make the very most of the relative heat and are thus reducing any trips up top to the bare minimum, as the sea sweeps across their decks.    
Going full bore along the southern expressway, the sailors in the Vendée Globe are constantly having to tackle the succession of lows, which are part of a continuous cycle around the Antarctic. However, between each front a transition zone slips in, marked by lighter winds. It's this phenomenon that the leading group were able to exploit yesterday and get away from the chasing pack. Indeed, whilst those leading the way were still belting along at around 15 knots, behind them the solo sailors saw their pace slowed by a ridge of high pressure and were reduced to making speeds of close to 10 knots. However, the favourable weather can just as quickly become unfavourable… Currently there is a reversal of fortune and the leading men are getting a taste of the conditions encountered by their adversaries yesterday. As such, in this afternoon's ranking, Gitana Eighty's cruising speed had fallen drastically, even though the drop in pace seems less marked for the time being: “It's our turn! We're facing some alternating phenomena and after the leaders made good gains yesterday, today it's the tail of the fleet that are reaping the benefits. Everyone is being affected by it. However, you mustn't brood about it as this isn't the last we'll see of the ‘yo-yo' weather systems” explained the skipper of Gitana Eighty serenely. 
For the time being, Loïck Peyron and his closest rivals are benefiting from an easing, moderate NW'ly air flow and sailing on port tack towards the next course mark: Heard Island. Situated to the SE of the Kerguelen plateau, this uninhabited island, which depends on Australia in terms of its administration, must be left to starboard by the solo sailors, in line with the sailing instructions. This evening the wind is set to back a little, which means that the monohulls will benefit from a SW'ly air flow in their sails, before the wind regains its strength a little.
However, aboard the monohull equipped by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, today's good news relates to Loïck Peyron's successful little climb up the mast…  In fact, a week ago, the solo sailor signalled that he'd broken the masthead lashing, temporarily depriving him of his gennaker. Though it could be repaired, it was a constraint nonetheless: a climb up a 29 metre spar in order to track down a piece which had got stuck at the top. Having not performed such an operation in the open sea for some years, the ship's captain wanted to wait for optimal conditions. After putting off an attempt late last week, the reduction in pace in the ridge of high pressure this afternoon seemed perfect for a new attempt! “I canted Gitana Eighty over slightly so as to be more stable, and I hoisted myself up using the strength in my arms and a system of blocks on the halyards. These techniques come from mountaineers. I tried to wear as little clothing as possible, not solely to be light but also so as not to get too hot. After all it's a fairly physical, tiring operation. However, I'm really delighted to have been able to make the most of this little calm spell to do it. It's going to be essential for the next stage!” admitted the skipper of Gitana Eighty, transformed into a mountaineer for the occasion. This ascent was successfully completed and it can now be said that the monohull in the colours of the LCF Rothschild Group is back to 100 % of its potential; news which delights the sailor from La Baule, who is ready to put the pedal to the metal.
Ranking on 9th December – 1600 hours (French time)
1. Paprec Virbac (Jean-Pierre Dick) 16,300 miles from the finish
2. Veolia Environnement (Roland Jourdain) 30.7 miles from the leader
3.BT (Sébastien Josse)
31.3 miles
Gitana Eighty (Loïck Peyron) 50.4 miles
5. Ecover (Mike Golding) 75.9 miles
6. Foncia (Michel Desjoyeaux) 88.1 miles
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