Vendee Globe – a Christmas week cliffhanger

The Vendée Globe seems set to deliver a South Pacific Ocean cliffhanger worthy of Christmas Holiday week fireside viewing as the front-running group tries to negotiate a large, tricky high pressure system which is blocking their route east.

If the plot line were written only by leader Yannick Bestaven (Maître Coq IV) he would be allowed to escape from the evil clutches of the anticyclone and to ride off to a much more substantial distance on the two groups that are chasing him, Charlie Dalin (APIVIA) at 129 miles behind and Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) chasing at 165.1 miles.

Behind them Boris Herrmann in fourth is three to four knots quicker at 373 miles behind Bestaven, at the head of the second wave stretching 530 miles back from Herrmann to Maxime Sorel in 10th.

So complex is the modelling, tracking and timing of the sticky system which is moving south east across their path, that Ruyant today admitted he is half prepared to bide his time and watch Bestaven open the course.

But weather ace Christian Dumard, meteo adviser to the race, says there is a slender chance the skipper of Maître Coq might be able to extend his break, sailing close to the ice exclusion, while his chasers are forced north-eastwards to find a different, more roundabout route to hook into the next low pressure system.

“It is not clear if I manage to escape. It is hard to say. Rationally I am the first into the real high pressure areas and then should also be the first to get out, normally,” explained Bestaven earlier today.

Ruyant responds, “We still have some pressure for a little while but further we go in a straight line the lighter it will be. So I hope Yannick doesn’t escape.”  

“The weather files are only seemingly reliable for two or three days with any real degree of confidence,” explains the skipper of LinkedOut. “So the forecasts are not very reliable looking forwards towards Cape Horn. We don't know that much and so I am going to stay a bit conservative.  I'm lucky to be a hunter, in this not very precise weather, not the hunted – not having to lead the way. I can benchmark myself against others, and I watch hour by hour day by day.”

The one thing which does seem sure about this whole scenario is that the anticyclone is crossing their path, cutting off their supplies of breeze. And all the time they are slowed to positively pedestrian paces scuppering the dream sequence of the latest high tech foilers scything east on long Pacific surfs.

Between two low-pressure systems

A new low pressure is very much on the minds of three competitors. The red stripe on their weather files that comes down from New Zealand is a fairly deep low-pressure system generating gusts in excess of 40 knots. Romain Attanasio and Clarisse Cremer now joined by Louis Burton, after he lost 400 miles with his pit stop off Macquairie Island (he climbed his mast three times to carry out repairs), are going to have to weather the storm between Wednesday and Thursday with strong NE’ly winds forecast forcing them to sail upwind in very nasty seas.

“We have to avoid going too quickly as we would end up in the worst of the low,” explained Romain Attanasio in a video he sent back.

“It does not matter if it catches me coming from behind me, but I am going to slow down. It’s not very logical and I find it hard to do that,” explained Clarisse Cremer the day before yesterday.

As for Louis Burton, his problem is the reverse. He needs to accelerate now ahead of the low so that it does not pass right across his route.

Destremau suffering from steering problems

Everyone is speeding along towards Cape Leeuwin in excellent weather conditions allowing them to lap up the miles. Everyone that is except for Sébastien Destremau, who continues to suffer from problems with his steering and autopilot, causing his boat to broach without warning and stepping up the stress levels for the skipper from Toulon.

“You could say that the end is nigh and I don’t have many other options than to sail Merci to the nearest port… But having said that, you never know when you’re in for a pleasant surprise,” explained Sébastien this morning.

The skipper is not clear about whether he wants to continue or not or whether he could carry out repairs under shelter in Australia. His route northwards should protect him in any case from the worst of the Southern Ocean with a new low expected to offer stormy conditions around the Kerguelens on Thursday.

Tracker

M.O.S.S Australia
Ice Rays UV Arm Sleeves
West System Afloat
Coursemaster Autopilot
M.O.S.S Australia
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey
GME GPS