Route du Rhum leader Loick Peyron reported this morning that he had just enjoyed his first hot meal after two and a half days of the race, a 'cassoulet' bean stew on the moonlit 'terrasse' of his giant Maxi Solo Banque Populaire VII. But as he stripped out his overall lead to nearly 150 miles this afternoon, the legendary French allrounder is increasingly leaving his opposition struggling with their soup course.
Some current routings even suggest the leading margin of Peyron - whose best Route du Rhum finish from six attempts over 28 years is fifth - may extend to 200 miles by late this evening.
After passing Madeira last night, conditions have eased off significantly for the leading Ultime class skippers who are dicing with the lighter airs generated by the Azores high pressure which now centred to their north and northwest.
Their balancing act, such as it is, is to avoid sailing too far north and being swallowed into the sticky lighter winds whilst also trying not to venture too far to the south, where the breeze is stronger but more miles are inherently added to the distance to sail as it becomes the less direct, longer route.
As they point their bows more directly towards Guadeloupe and the finish line, some 2400 miles ahead, if the balance of this equation is their only worry then the magnificent seven Ultime soloists might spare a thought or two for the other skippers of the four other classes.
Most are about to suffer another spanking from an Atlantic low pressure system which will bring very strong, gusty winds - forecast to be worst off the notorious Cape Finisterre, off Spain's NW corner.
It has not been a good day for some of the pre-race favourites. Sebastien Rogues, Class 40's outstanding skipper these past two years, has had to abandon his quest to add the Route du Rhum title to his list of honours. A mainsail rip this morning made the decision for the GDF SUEZ skipper, compounding concerns about a failing spreader fitting which supports his rig, and wind instrument issues. He is heading to Spain.
As per the pre-race tipsters' beliefs Rogues had lead the race for the first couple of days. So also did Yves Le Blevec in the Multi50 class on Actual. He was also expected to be a top contender. WInd instrument and electrical problems have required Le Blevec to pit-stop into Cascais.
But what should have been a fast, simple fix became a double stop. He set off again this late morning only to have to return back again and at 1630hrs this afternoon was reported to be making ready to leave the Portuguese marina for the second time.
He was more than 360 miles away from a close duel between Class leader Lalou Roucayrol (Arkema Region Aquitaine) who is 15 miles ahead of Erwan Le Roux (FenetreA-Cardinal).
The IMOCA Open 60 Class sees the leaders closing progressively to the Azores with 40 miles separating leader Francois Gabart (Macif) from third placed Marc Guillemot (Safran). Tanguy de Lamotte rejoined the race on his Initiatives Coeur on Tuesday evening.
Eight skippers have now abandoned in Class 40 and 31 were left actively racing today. The leaders left Cape Finisterre behind this morning and are into more manageable conditions, time to recover energies and focus on strategies for the immediate future. Kito de Pavant (Otio-Bastivo Medical) leads Thibault Vauchel-Camus (Solidaires en Peloton) by nine miles but Yannnick Bestaven (Le Conservateur) has made a spectacular rise to third 20 miles off the lead whilst Spain's Alex Pella holds on to fourth.
Briton Miranda Merron said today she is delighted to be still in the race, lying in ninth on Campagne de France. "I have been having problems with my autopilot and am on back-up. I have given it enough time for the moment and am going to give up on it for the meantime. It is something to do with the masthead unit. Luckily before the race I got someone who knows what the are doing to look at all this and the back up system is much simpler now. But the rest is down to guesswork. I am contemplating a sail change which really does cost time and energy if you get it wrong at all", she told Race HQ in Saint-Malo today.
Yann Elies, Ultime Paprec Recycling: "We have a high pressure system which is trying to swallow us. Whenever I feel I am getting away from it my speeds drop again as the winds fall. Last night I had electronics problems and had to slow down. I lost time messing about inside the boat trying to fix it. LIttle techncial problems are losing me 15 mins here, 30 mins there. I have not really had the time to recharge my own batteries to be serene and focused as I am on the Solitaire du Figaro."
Lalou Roucayrol, Multi50, Arkema Aquitaine: "I have just cleaned up the boat and dry as much as I could because we took a bit of a pounding these first three days. I am doing what my router Eric Mas says and we wanted to be in the west. Now there is a ridge to manage we'll see what happens there but we are better positioned here to take on the ridge. The boat is good. I feel fatigued and have not eaten much and have not had much sleep.
François Gabart, IMOCA, Macif: "It's pretty clear in my head from the start. I followed the strategy I had for the first few days. These will be the more difficult times as I get to the ridge first in the lead and the others behind will have more for longer."
Sébastien Rogues, Class40, GDF SUEZ: " I am extremely disappointed but very touched by all the support I have had and continue to have. I thank my family and all the workers at GDF SUEZ, my team, my partners who have always supported me. I am disappointed but will not forget this rich, intense experience."
Sir Robin Knox Johnston (Rhum Class, Grey Power): " My only "damage" so far is that the wind instruments have failed, but that is where I have an advantage over the younger skippers in that I grew up when we did not have such luxuries. So, as I look at the latest position reports, it is good to see we are slowly reeling in the boats that got ahead of us earlier. We have the speed on a reach,so it will now come down to tactical decisions as to where to choose to make the crossing of the Atlantic, and every competitor is thinking about that right now. At the end of the day, we all race within our classes, but I think we must all be watching with admiration the progress of the Ultimes. 20 years ago Peter Blake and I thought a 92 foot catamaran was big and fast, and it was at the time. We averaged 15 knots around the world with a crew of 8. Loick Peyron is now averaging close to 30 knots single handed! That is progress. One wonders at what the watchkeepers on the Merchant ships make of it, as they see AIS targets coming towards them, or overtaking them at the speeds we now make in yachts. Banque Popular must appear like a new secret navy weapon"