Welcome to the South!
“The water is 6°C, as is the air… so at least there’s no risk of fog with this balance of temperatures,” joked Sébastien Josse at midday. “I’ve got the heating on now and it’s working pretty well.” There’s no doubt that the lead boats in the Vendée Globe are very much in the Deep South. Indeed, though the Indian Ocean proved to be gentle and welcoming over the first few miles, the atmosphere has become somewhat tougher now: grey skies, low cloud, falling temperatures… textbook Southern Ocean! Especially given that the first big storm of the Indian Ocean is expected to disrupt play over the coming days.
Sailing his own race
Though the weather is still smiling on the two lead boats in this 8th Vendée Globe, it hasn’t been quite so nice with the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild for the past few days. Since coming unhooked from the lead wagon after his rudder issues a week ago, Sébastien Josse has seen his rivals blast off down the racetrack thanks to more favourable conditions. At the 14:00 GMT ranking, the latest of the Gitana fleet was still lying in 3rd place, but is now over 668 miles astray of the duo made up of Armel Le Cléac’h and Alex Thomson: “My damaged rudder cost very dear because, as I’ve already explained, it caused me to miss my slot. Since then, I haven’t been party to the same conditions as them, so it’s nothing to do with the boat’s performance, rather it is all down to the weather.” Up at the front, they don’t even have to ask the question. They headed off with the pressure and they’re on a straight line track, whilst behind I’ve had to put in a series of gybes and negotiate zones of transition. The upshot of all that is that the miles are racking up and my deficit is extending, which is not in the least bit surprising given the weather configuration. I’m taking a few knocks waiting for the weather system to roll over the top of me, but I’ve made the best of it and I’m staying focused on my course, getting Gitana 16 making headway and working with what I’m given. You have to be patient and wait for an opportunity to present itself. In the meantime, I’m not a magician and there’s no point getting annoyed or sailing dangerously by trying to push the boat too hard!”
The constraints of the AEZ (Antarctic Exclusion Zone)
In this 2016-2017 edition, Race Management and the organisers have chosen to set up an exclusion zone right around the Antarctic continent, a system that replaces the previous ice gates for the Vendée Globe version of the Deep South.
In this way, this AEZ creates a barrier to the South, below which the twenty-five competitors cannot descend or they will be punished or even disqualified depending on the scenario.
Made up of 72 points spaced 5° apart and put in place solely for reasons of safety, the AEZ is there to prevent the sailors from venturing too close to the pole and its waters inhabited by ice. An initial route was outlined in September 2016 in collaboration with the Toulouse-based company, CLS, which is sharing its expertise in processing satellite data, radar imagery and altimetry (measurement of sea levels) with the Vendée Globe organisation, as well as modelling the ocean currents so as to detect and predict the presence of drifting ice right around Antarctica.
Since the start in Les Sables d’Olonne, on 6 November, Jacques Caraës and his assistant Race Directors have been adjusting the contour of the exclusion zone according to the latest observations supplied by CLS and are thus adapting it to the evolution of the drifting ice.
Though the safety aspect of this zone is paramount with regards ice, it does impede play through the Southern Ocean in this round the world race, at times forcing the sailors to adapt their course as a result, as is currently the case aboard Edmond de Rothschild: “In a bid to take the shortest possible route and hence go as far South as possible, we’re really flirting with the red line… Earlier, I gybed just 9 miles from the outer limit and I think it’s always good to leave yourself a bit of wriggle room just in case you have a slight hitch during your manoeuvre. The price is too high to play with fire! For the next stage, I’m already watching the low pressure system, which will hit us in 2-3 days. It appears to be very feisty – 50 knots – as it scoops up the tail end of the fleet, but it should have depowered a bit once it rolls over us. All the same, it’s good to anticipate and I’ve put to one side a quicker routing option because it called for me to link together a series of gybes along the AEZ during this time,” explained the skipper of Edmond de Rothschild.
Ranking on 30 November at 14:00 GMT
- Armel Le Cleac'h (Banque Populaire VIII) 15,135.5 miles from the finish
- Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) 12.1 miles behind the leader
- Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) 668.8 miles behind the leader
- Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ) 1,139.0 miles behind the leader
- Paul Meilhat (SMA) 1,143.0 miles behind the leader
- Yann Eliès (Quéguiner Leucémie Espoir) 1,445.8 miles behind the leader
- Jean-Pierre Dick (St Michel – Virbac) 2,066.5 miles behind the leader