It's the final “sprint”, but it's being done at slow speed by the three frontrunners in the New York-Vendée Race. In the Bay of Biscay, just 200 miles from the finishing line, Jérémie Beyou (Maître Coq), Sébastien Josse (Edmond de Rothschild) and the British skipper, Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) have run into a wall, where the absence of wind has slowed them right down.
“We’re doing what we can with what we are being given,” explained Sébastien Josse. The three frontrunners have hardly anything being given to them at the moment. Very little wind at all. Very low speeds and their VMG (velocity made good), is sometimes even negative, as they continue to try to make their way towards Les Sables d’Olonne.
The duo formed by Jérémie Beyou and Sébastien Josse are 80 miles north of the coast of Spain with Alex Thomson 70 miles further north, but all three leaders are becalmed. They are finding it hard to get above 7 knots of speed… and there is hardly any hope of seeing a steady wind build. We are in a weather system, where the isobars are spaced right out. This is linked to the area of high pressure, meaning that the wind is quite simply absent.
Given these conditions, there is no choice but to “make do with what they are being given”, hoping for a puff of air, a cloud, a thundery squall to make headway, while attempting to move towards the finish… which isn’t always the case, as sometimes they need to tack, as we saw this morning in order to find an angle allowing them to advance at low speed or to seek out a puff of air.
In this little game, it is impossible to say you are winning, when you grab a mile. We even saw Alex Thomson – closer to the direct route, take back the lead for a short while this morning, before handing it back to Jérémie Beyou. After losing his tiny lead on two occasions, the skipper of Maître Coq has just built up a new lead of around fifteen miles. But this lead is not solid and absolutely nothing can be taken for granted with 200 miles left to go. With such a short distance left to sail (if there was wind, an IMOCA is able to cover that in around ten hours), we can still hope they will make it to Les Sables d’Olonne tomorrow morning… but even that is not certain and any forecasts of their ETA is difficult to announce. That is what Jérémie Beyou said yesterday. “I went through 72 different routings and none of them can agree. They say between one day and 13 hours and two days and 23 hours.”
What makes this halt so clear for the three leaders is that the fourth placed skipper, Paul Meilhat, has clawed his way back. You just need to look at the figures. The skipper of SMA was 370 miles behind Maître Coq 48 hours ago… and this morning at 0900hrs UTC, he is only 170 miles behind. Paul Meilhat has won back 200 miles in two days from the three leaders. The equivalent of 370 km. Having said that, his gains are now becoming less spectacular. SMA is now down to 11 knots, as he too has run into this windless zone stretching out across the Bay of Biscay.
Further back, in the second group, they are still managing to keep up speeds of around fifteen knots and so are also narrowing the gap.
Tanguy de Lamotte (Initiatives Cœur) is in fifth place 327 miles back, while the Japanese sailor, Kojiro Shiraishi (Spirit of Yukoh) is sixth 354 miles back. Vincent Riou’s PRB, 7th, is now also less than 360 miles back from the leader, while Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut, 8th) is 491 miles back.
Three boats off the Azores
A lot further back in the third group, the battle is raging off the Azores between three of the favourites for the Vendée Globe, who after their forced pit stop in Newport early in the race, are seeing how they measure up and learning a lot about their respective boats in this improvised battle. For Yann Eliès (Quéguiner-Leucémie Espoir), Morgan Lagravière (Safran) and Jean-Pierre Dick (St Michel Virbac), the Azores will see them separating out, as it seems that Jean-Pierre Dick has chosen to dive to the south of the islands, while Yann Eliès and Morgan Lagravière are heading for a route to the north of the islands. This means that the gap from N to S has been widening reaching 275 miles, which is the equivalent of crossing the Bay of Biscay from St-Nazaire to Gijon.
Finally, at the back, the New Zealander Conrad Colman (100% Natural Energy) and the Dutch sailor, Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) are of course in another weather system. They all have a long way to go: around 1700 miles…
BM/Mer & Media