Bestaven’s optimal upwind course sees him clip the corner flag of the Antarctic Exclusion Zone as the new weather system breathes life back into his attack, allowing him to slant slightly more to the south, passing some 300 miles south of Point Nemo tomorrow
The solo racer from La Rochelle has today opened another handful of miles on second placed Charlie Dalin (APIVIA) not least because Dalin’s unfortunate timing, as they are still upwind, on the new weather system has required him to tack back to the north in order to make the corner of the ice barrier.
Bestaven should celebrate his 48th birthday Monday with the perfect gift, seeing his lead increase still further, as he crosses the low into fast reaching conditions. Adorned with relatively flat seas in front of the system he might press the accelerator hard on Maître CoQ IV or simply enjoy the fast birthday ride on his VPLP-Verdier design which was launched as Safran for the last Vendée Globe.
The leader has more than 22 years of ocean racing under his belt, his first major success being winning the Mini Transat in 2001.
When Bestaven won the Mini Transat in 2001 the runner up was the amateur British skipper Simon Curwen who drove a wedge between the victor and his third placed pal Arnaud Boissières.
Friends Boissières and Bestaven – who grew up together in Arcachon – had identical twin Nivelt designs which proved extremely potent. The current Vendée Globe leader won both legs of that Mini Transat, actually the first sailor ever to do so after Arcachonnais mentor Yves Parlier did – but Parlier was penalised 16 hours on the first leg. He was a major influence on the early sailing career of Bestaven.
“Building your own boat and crossing the Atlantic alone is unforgettable,” Bestaven told the Vendée Globe website before the start. “My career happened little by little, but in particular thanks to the influence of Yves Parlier who took me on board with him. But the Mini-Transat was a real eye-opener. Winning the Mini Transat was transformative, winning both stages and therefore the race on a boat that I built myself. You can hardly do more at that stage of your career.”
Brit Brian Thompson actually led the second stage to Salvador de Bahia but chose to stay offshore overnight to stay with the breeze whilst Bestaven went along the shore to win. Thompson finished sixth and Sam Davies 11th.
A typically virulent low pressure system is forecast to converge from the north west, coinciding with the leaders projected rounding of Cape Horn on January 2nd. Presently the weather files predict 45kts averages which would surely require the two leaders -at least- to throttle back and time their passage of the notorious rocky islet better.
“I was sold a Pacific experience of fast surfing and smooth downwind sailing. But is has been like climbing a mountain. So now the idea is to continue down towards the Ice Zone to get closer to the centre of the low. We then cross it and pick up the wind shift on the other side, with fairly strong winds, 40-knot gusts. We’ll be the first to take advantage of that, so that should – if the charts and forecasts are right – propel me as the leader eastwards, towards Cape Horn. So if everything works out as forecast, we should be at the Horn in 6-7 days around the 2nd January. For the moment, we have to be patient. Here it’s cold and wet. If that appeals to you, come and join us aboard Maître CoQ in the South Pacific,” Bestaven said today.
The chasing pack of ten is, to all intents and purposes, now eleven. Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée 2) is in contact with the peloton, 60 miles behind tenth placed Benjamin Dutreux (OMIA-Water Family) who struggled yesterday with a problem with his J2 headsail, which as yet remains unresolved and will require a mast climb at some point. There is a question whether Burton will be able to hold on to the back of the same low pressure as the peloton.
Nonetheless the shape of January’s race up the Atlantic is taking shape this week. It seems unlikely that it will be restricted to a Bestaven V Dalin match race such as has decided the 2012 and 2016 races. If the second pack can – as predicted – be within striking distance at the Cape then this is still anyone’s race to win.