Have the Tables Turned?
After Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss appears to have completed one of the biggest comebacks ever in the history of the Vendéee Globe, reducing his delta to 28 miles this Friday morning from over 800 miles last Friday, his rival Armel Le Cléac'h has found a light easterly breeze and is now moving away from the British skipper who was making just over three knots. Elsewhere in the fleet Enda O'Coineen is approaching his anchorage of choice at Stewart Island south of New Zeland and Jean Pierre Dick is approaching Cape Horn.
There are 600 testing, head scratching miles ahead of the leaders to Cabo Frio - by Rio - where the breezes appear to strengthen and become more consistent. These miles in the South Atlantic are a patchwork of windless cells, little local ridges of high pressure waiting like sticky tentacles of light winds and mini-depressions. This area is a notorious battleground where breezes are hard to predict, where the weather models and routing software often struggle for accuracy. And just as Thomson has got himself almost within touching distance, at the closest he has been to Le Cléac'h in 27 days of racing, it appears as the tables have swung back in the French skipper's favor. Thomson's route - 120 miles or so to the east of that taken by Le Cléac'h - may be about a longer term investment but for the moment Le Cléac'h is in a light breeze and back in control.
Dick (StMichel-Virbac) is propelled by a good westerly air stream and should just be able to see the familiar outline of the rock at sunrise. The two skippers chasing him will go through a similar experience around ten hours later. Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent) is around ten miles ahead of Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir). All three will be making their entrance into the Atlantic with a westerly air stream, which is set to weaken as they reach Staten Island. They will have to wait until midday on Saturday for the weather to change with a new low developing off Patagonia.
A southern low should also enable Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) to take advantage of a south-westerly breeze, which is cold, but will push him along the edge of the Antarctic Exclusion Zone, but looking ahead to around five days from now, his rounding of Cape Horn is not looking easy with a high blocking his path… This could allow Nándor Fa (Spirit of Hungary) and Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy) to narrow the gap as they will have a front right behind them. As for the five to the south of Chatham Island, the low-pressure system has scattered the skippers. Still led by Eric Bellion (Commeunseulhomme) with Arnaud Boissières (La Mie Câline) and Alan Roura (La Fabrique) in his wake, Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut) and Rich Wilson (Great America IV) have preferred to play it safe by heading towards the NE to avoid the nasty seas and very strong winds.
Irishman, Enda O'Coineen is about to arrive on Stewart Island and may moor in the same bay as Yves Parlier in 2001. It will be obvious later this morning where he decides to shelter The goal is to carry out a thorough check up of Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland and repairs need to be made to her mast track and autopilots. Didac Costa (One Planet-One Ocean) has also been busy carrying out repairs to his steering over the past couple of days. The Catalan sailor is now back racing pushed along by a low, which he tackled from the center. He now has Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Étamine du Lys) right behind him, while Sébastien Destremau (TechnoFirst-faceOcean) and Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) still have 750 miles to sail before entering the Pacific. Now 8000 miles - or one third of the race course - separate the two frontrunners from the pair at the rear more than an ocean behind.
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EXTRACTS FROM TODAY'S RADIO SESSIONS
Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ): "It took time for the wind to develop after Cape Horn, particularly around Staten Island. I found myself in an area of light airs. The wind finally arrived from the SW and reached forty knots around the Falklands, but the breeze is not very stable. The wind should last for a few more hours, but afterwards, it is looking more complicated. There is a transition zone with very little wind before we set off again upwind. You have to be ready for anything in this area, as it is where the weather systems develop for the whole of the South Atlantic. There are small lows which pop up and highs which move around… I'm not really watching Jean-Pierre Dick, as he is 800 miles behind, with several weather systems between us, so we won't experience the same conditions. I am going to have to remain focused until Cape Frio, but then after that, it should be much simpler with the trade winds"
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