And the weather is far from simple as the conclusion of a relentless push across the Pacific approaches. The vital thing in these conditions is achieving the right balance both in terms of the physical approach - trimming and pushing the boat hard enough to not lose too many miles against the opposition – and the mental approach – keeping alert, making the right decisions at the right time and not getting too stressed about the approach of Cape Horn which will be entirely new to all of the top 13 except for Boris Herrmann (3x before), Jean Le Cam (7x before) and Louis Burton (1x before). After 52 days at sea the solo sailors are entrenched in their rhythm, in tune with their boats and are able to achieve that short to medium term objective.
The weather pattern that the leaders have to deal with to reach the third of the major capes of the Vendée Globe course is looking complicated. They are caught between a second low-pressure system to their north, which is set to deepen and will offer strong winds along the coast of Chile all the way to the tip of South America, and a narrow corridor of lighter, unstable winds. The frontrunners (Yannick Bestaven, Charlie Dalin and Thomas Ruyant) will need to avoid getting a hammering in 45 knots and 7m high waves, as they approach the Horn. As for those chasing them, they will have to avoid getting slowed down in an area of great instability.
Depending on where they are positioned, each skipper has to adapt their strategy to avoid suffering damage, while attempting not to lose any ground. At the front of the fleet, Yannick Bestaven, Charlie Dalin and Thomas Ruyant are accelerating to stay ahead of the front in order to take advantage of the NW’ly airstream and a more regular swell for as long as possible. Sailing on the port tack on their intact foils, Apivia and LinkedOut have managed to step up the pace today.
All three will however have to adjust their course and speeds to avoid finding themselves in the worst place at the worst time, when the second low-pressure system crosses their path.
In any case, compromise and balance between performance and self preservation are the watchwords. This is a skill that requires patience and trying to quell any feelings of frustration but that is not always easy.
The stress inevitably mounts
“As these datum points arrive there is a heightened sense of anticipation and Cape Horn is the biggest of them all and the fact that you are past the half way point adds to the stress. But when you are really in your rhythm sometimes you feel like you can go on forever, that was the case for me. Nearly every skipper is looking now to getting out of the Southern Ocean,” said Mike Golding in today’s English Live show. “But looking at the tracking data I think it is very stressful racing with this ice-barrier always on your right hand side. It is like sailing a coastal race where there is no actual coast. I think that is pretty stressful and if the sailors are struggling with that it is possibly a function of being jammed up against it, especially when it is tight like this in a group.”
And, though looking perky and content with her race so far, crossed the Antimeridian and ‘heading home’, Briton Pip Hare admitted today, “I am really thinking about the weather and where I want to be and how much wind I want to be able to push the boat hard. There is a bit of a black art in there, even the first time in the Southern Ocean and I am applying Pip’s rule of thumb as to what the GRIB files say and what I know we will get.
"I guess the thing just now is there is still half way to go, there is so much ocean to go and at the beginning I had nothing to lose and now I have something to lose. It is maybe now a little more stressful for me because I am so happy with how I am doing and I don’t want to lose this. Almost inevitably I have Koji and Charal behind and they will come back at me. But I will keep plugging away, doing my best.”
31-years-old middle of the Pacific
Clarisse Cremer the young skipper of Banque Populaire X celebrated her 31st birthday today near Point Nemo - in the middle of nowhere. She admitted having to negotiate with herself over and over again: "I try to be fast all the time, keeping myself safe. It's all a story of compromise between performance and keeping the emotions in check. I'm getting to know myself. It’s a real lesson in life.”
In 12th she is trying to avoid being passed by Armel Tripon, whose black and yellow Sam Maniard foiler continues to gain on her.
"I have super favourable weather up to Cape Horn," Tripon admitted on the French show. “I will try to take this opportunity to stick in my limits. But you have to press. There is still a very high level of commitment from everyone! My goal is to keep coming back while saving my boat. It’s a balance to be found, you have to be careful.”