Out of the breeze

The current fleet leader © Armel Le Cléac'h / Banque Populaire
The current fleet leader © Armel Le Cléac'h / Banque Populaire

In less than a week, the leaders of the Vendée Globe have already done 1 630 miles and are now sailing into the trade winds, north-east of the Canary Islands. Four competitors have had to abandon due to technical problems.

Sadness: this is the word that everybody has in mind after Marc Guillemot (Safran) lost his keel, Kito de Pavant (Groupe Bel) and Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée) have been hit by fishing boats and Samantha Davies (Savéol) dismasted last night. There was no way to avoid the bad weather after the Cape Finistère: a low pressure was getting deeper between the Acores and Madeira and they had no choice but to sail into strong winds. Their positioning would only allow them to decide when they would change their course. Only the first 2 boats, François Gabart (Macif) and Armel le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) have been able to avoid the strongest conditions.

A tough choice

After a rough Bay of Biscay, the fleet has been able to go South in 25 knots trade winds sailing before the wind along the Portuguese coast. The gap between the leaders and Alessandro di Benedetto (Team Plastique) in last place has grown: when the Italian passed Cape Finistère, François Gabart was in Lisbon’s latitude, 250 miles away! Then, a disturbance from the Atlantic changed the game: the wind disappearing close to the coast, the boats had to head west, but when?

Vincent Riou (PRB) was one of the first ones to head west when the leader François Gabart kept going south, estimating that the he could get further down, at least to Madeira. It worked as planned and the young skipper gained 50 miles on Bernard Stamm (Cheminée Poujoulat), 80 miles on Armel le Cléac’h and 160 miles on Vincent Riou (PRB)…well done! Especially since the next 3 circumnavigators who tried that strategy got stuck in light winds: Mike Golding (Gamesa), Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) and Arnaud Boissière (Akéna Véranda).

A transition zone

After the strong winds that came with the front, 25-30 knots winds have allowed the leader to accelerate and gained between 30 and 120 miles. But the weather didn’t quite do what was expected and François Gabart got a pretty bad surprise: calm seas and light winds stopped him while his challengers, further west, came back rushing with average speeds around 17 knots!

The leading pack is now close again and Armel Le Cléac’h has even passed the young Gabart who is now chased by Bernard Stamm: at noon today, only 15 miles separated them and the next group is only 70 miles behind (Thomson, Dick, Riou, Beyou). Le Cléac’h has now gybed towards the Equator and he will stay on this tack for at least four days benefitting from 10-12 knots trade winds. While this is getting better for the first boats, the back of the fleet with de Broc, de Lamotte, Gutkowski and di Benedetto, still faces strong conditions with 30 knots and high seas.

As everyone will approximately follow the same route South along 26° W until next Tuesday (and later for the other boats), the fleet should spead like a long snake to reach a gap around 1 000 miles at the Equator! The leading group will probably stay very close whilst passing through the Doldrums.

Leader Board, Friday November the 16th 12.00 UTC

1-Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) 22 421,6  miles from the finish

2-François Gabart (Macif) 11,8 miles from the leader

3-Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat) 14,2 from the leader

4-Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) 66,6 from the leader

5-Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) 74,3 from the leader

The 16 Vendée Globe 2012-2013 competitors  still racing

Jérémie Beyou (Maître CoQ)

Arnaud Boissières (Akena vérandas)

Bertrand de Broc (Votre nom autour du monde avec EDM Projets)

Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives-cœur)

Alessandro di Benedetto (Team Plastique)

Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3)

François Gabart (Macif)

Mike Golding (Gamesa)

Zbigniew Gutkowski (Energa)

Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel)

Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire)

Vincent Riou (PRB)

Javier Sanso (Acconia 100% EcoPowered)

Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat)

Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss)

Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud)

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