Meilhat and Beyou into the Indian Ocean
French pair Paul Meilhat and Jérémie Beyou were this morning blasting east through the Indian Ocean hunting down the leading trio in the Vendee Globe.
The duo, in fourth and fifth, have been practically side by side since the solo round the world race began from Les Sables d'Olonne, France, exactly three weeks ago.
Meilhat, skipper of SMA, passed the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope on South Africa's southern tip just before midnight UTC with Maître CoQ skipper Beyou less than an hour behind.
And with the frontrunners Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss), Armel Le Cléac'h (Banque Populaire VIII) and Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) all slowed in lighter winds, the chasing pair were today making the most of the chance to reel them in.
At the 0500 UTC rankings Meilhat was making more than 19 knots with Beyou just 12 miles behind him doing 15.5 in similar strength breeze.
By contrast at the head of the fleet Thomson and Le Cléac'h, split by only 10 miles, were facing lighter winds of 10 knots from the north, with Josse 362nm back in even less.
Meilhat and Beyou may be some 800nm behind the front two but if they can hang on to the east-moving depression for long enough they could be able to reduce that deficit significantly.
In fact, in the last 24 hours alone they have claimed back 200 miles on Thomson and Le Cléac'h.
Also making good speed this morning was Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir skipper Yann Eliès, who is due to pass the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean later today.
Back in good breeze after being dumped by a front yesterday, Jean Le Cam is now 200nm to the south west of Jean-Pierre Dick and Thomas Ruyant. That trio might not have as clear a run at the leaders as SMA and Maître CoQ but still they knocked 100nm off the gap overnight.
The same can't be said for the large group of boats still snared in the St Helena High with little chance of escaping any time soon.
At 0500 UTC the leader of that group, 11th placed Louis Burton on Bureau Vallée was making eight knots while 300 miles back Eric Bellion in 20th was two knots quicker.
But speeds are due to plummet once more later today when they once again become stuck in the center of the notorious anticyclone.
Meanwhile Vincent Riou arrived in Cape Town on PRB at around midnight, four days after he retired from racing with keel problems.
EXTRACTS FROM TODAY'S RADIO SESSIONS
Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée): "It's a shambles: I'm sailing close-hauled in ten knots of breeze with a quartering swell and conditions are not easy! We're picking our way along the edge of a zone of high pressure, which is moving very quickly. We have light headwinds and a westerly swell… The forecast is complicated: we're going to have to tack to skirt around the high pressure. It's a moonless, pitch black night, though the skies are filled with stars.".
Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Étamine du Lys): "Things were a little tougher last night. We're slamming upwind and at times the boat leaps off a wave and drops back down very violently. I'm on starboard tack as the wind is right on the nose and on the other tack I'd been on for 25 miles, it was just unbearable! I'm trying to hunt down a wind shift in the East through until tomorrow morning, then I'll put in a tack. I put in a counter tack last night in a squall, but it was hellish. It's not easy getting across this zone of high pressure. Though we had a great weather system to drop down as far as Brazil, it's been a real hassle since… when I think that the frontrunners are 3,000 miles ahead of us! We were expecting some separation, but not to this extent… Well, I'm not really watching how things play out there.
I really had a hard time of it in the squalls yesterday with big clouds and a lot of rain… reminiscent of a mini doldrums… Otherwise all's well aboard and it's all systems go. It has been excruciatingly hot over the past two days though, especially in the middle of the week as it was very cloudy yesterday. It's the second night where I've put on a fleece at night. I noticed that I wasn't eating enough in the heat. I'm really looking forward to tackling the Deep South in a few days' time. I've been following the news a bit… the English look happy!"
Conrad Colman (Foresight Natural Energy): "Ocean racing can sometimes feel like playing a computer game, admittedly under a shower and in a bouncy castle, but the point I'm trying to make is that it's a long solitary enterprise and we mostly interact with our competitors as dots on a screen that are hundreds of miles away in reality. Recently however I have had the pleasure of company as Stephane and I were within a couple of miles of each other, I sailed passed Nandor yesterday and finally, Kojiro and I almost ran into each other last night!
We have a system called AIS (Automatic Identification System) onboard that allows boats to talk to each other electronically and automatically and the system plots the position and course of surrounding boats on my navigation screen. So I saw him coming on AIS and knew the cross would be close, but as he neared I started to think I might have to take avoiding action as he had right of way. As it turned out he passed safely 300 meters behind me and I was able to fly my drone over our boats to get some cool photos as we crossed with the sunset in the background.
The plan now for our group is to tack later today and head south and work our way around the edge of a reformed high pressure zone before finally escaping the shifty calms that have defined our passage of the South Atlantic. That means slow going this weekend with a delicate negotiation of the calms on Monday and then full throttle thereafter in the playground of the southern ocean storms that will whip us eastwards. I am already excited about unfurling the storm spinnaker and surfing the huge waves of the south in proper IMOCA 60 conditions. To give you an idea of just how mild things have been so far, I haven't worn a jacket or any type of wet weather gear since before the Cape Verdes! So now it's time to put away the disgusting UV top and salty shorts and get dressed for the main event!"
Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ): "I've had an albatross following me for a while. It's a lone bird and you quickly build up a rapport with it and get talking to it. It's a funny relationship. There's a smell of the South. I'm going to make my way along the edge of the ice zone. The game plan is not to make any silly mistakes and to take care of my equipment."
Fabrice Amedeo (Newsrest Matmut): "There are highs and lows in this race. I didn't sail very well the other day. I ran out of energy. I stayed under gennaker, I didn't hoist the spinnaker and I didn't study the weather very well. Spirits are high though and that frustration is already behind me. With the arrival of the first substantial low on Wednesday, I'll switch from sprinter to marathon runner so I'm on the money in this crucial phase."
THE 0400HRS UTC RANKINGS
> View the complete rankings...here
> Listen to all of the radio sessions.... here
HOW TO FOLLOW THE RACE
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