Eric Bellion, who stands to finish as the first rookie in this eighth edition of the Vendée Globe faces one fierce final Friday, as he fights with the big, active Atlantic low pressure system during his last 800 miles to the finish line in Les Sables d'Olonne.
The Vendée Globe was to be something of a personal odyssey for Bellion who champions the positive benefits of diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace and society as a whole. But his own transformation is from a passionate but slightly nervous Vendée Globe first timer to an accomplished, smart and fast skipper who is on course for ninth place, first rookie. But Bellion and Conrad Colman, some 277 miles behind, face a very tough few days as they seek to close out their respective solo round the world races. Winds averaging 60kts and gusting to more than 70 are expected to peak during Friday.
Bellion races the powerful Finot design which started life as DCNS and proved fast in the Pacific in particular as well as making a good ascent of the Atlantic. His first IMOCA race was only last year when he was partnered by young British skipper Sam Goodchild on the Transat Jacques Vabre in which they finished seventh. Bellion told Race Direction this afternoon: “I already had a squall in excess of 70 knots this morning. It's tough, but everything is fine aboard.”
Both Bellion and Colman are being prudent in their choice of staying to the south of the big depression. The French skipper is expected Sunday afternoon or evening on the finish line off Les Sables d'Olonne. Colman would be just less than 24 hours later.
Ten skippers remain on the course. In 13th and 14th places, Alan Roura and Rich Wilson are finding the 20-22kts trade winds not just monotonous but stressful for their boats and their bodies, and both share the same worries and sense of acute frustration at the weather outlook ahead of them. The dynamic situation seems to be continually changing which in itself adds to the worry about the final weeks of their respective routes.
Of the high pressure ridge which will block him and then another stormy low arriving Roura said today: “My route north is a complete failure. I'm heading straight for a wind hole and upwind sailing. I have no idea what is going on. How it's gone from a forecast of 25 knots downwind to this. My routing suggests I head for Madeira and the coast of Portugal. That's the exact opposite of what I intended to do and it adds more time to my race.
“My mood swings with the weather changes. It's not weather ahead. It's a disaster! Not a breath of air. Someone is playing a joke on me maybe? I think I have reached my limits. I'm disgusted to see the final miles are going to be the hardest and I risk losing my thirteenth place on top of that, as behind me they should be able to take the direct route with good wind and speed. We've reached a critical situation on board.
“The boat is fine, but me? I can't stand this torture I have been experiencing since Cape Horn. I want to cry or scream. There's no way out. I'm stuck here. I have to continue and hope that the weather changes. But it looks like I really messed up. I need to get a grip. Getting hit so hard so close to the finish, not knowing where to go and when I'm going to finish.”
And from on board Great American IV, Rich Wilson added: “The wind is going further east than anticipated but the challenge there is you end up going further north into the old seaway and it gets bumpier. Everyone says the same thing – it's hard, it's long. A couple more days like this trying to be as easy on the boat as possible. We're going almost due north now. It would be really nice to have some easy miles. I'm looking at weather maps for the next 2-4 days. It's quite complicated. Not obvious at all. I'm just going a day at a time. We'll get there when we get there. The idea was to get up north and then get to the Azores and wait for some good weather and then make a run for it. But the latest files show a storm developing at the Azores. There's an awful lot going on in the Atlantic in winter-time.”
Rich Wilson (Great American IV): “I got a lot of attention for being the oldest in the fleet, but Nandor is only a year younger than me and he got there two weeks ahead of me. He did a great job. He knows his boat as well as anybody in the fleet and he just kept pushing a little bit, nothing dramatic, no huge runs, just pressure on all the way. And it just paid off, so big congratulations to him for that. A terrific guy, very calm, very modest. He's quite the mariner.”
Pieter Heerema (No Way Back): “Clearly getting closer to the Equator and Doldrums: the air is getting much more moist. Wind is above expectations and also since yesterday evening turned more right. This has given the opportunity to go higher / more East and at same time maintain very good speed. The Doldrums look horrible on the gribs all over the Atlantic so I take a chance to stay a bit more east. Destremau will not catch up unless major technical issue, and the 2 boats ahead have had a good but much more West passing of the Doldrums. I reckon that going more East will give me a lateral advantage after and maybe depending what happens in a few days, I can also turn the inside corner if the wind shifts right. But the future is very unclear. The grib models completely disagree the last few days.”