As he seeks to take avoiding action to miss the worst of a deep low pressure system which threatens violent storm force winds, in excess of 65kts, and huge seas, Jean-Pierre Dick may become the first sailor in the history of the Vendée Globe to race continuously through the Bass Strait, between Tasmania and Australia.
The French skipper of StMichel-Virbac indicated today that his current routing set to escape the worst of the storm would require a significant detour. Whether he actually passes through the strait, north of Tasmania, will ultimately depend on the speed that the low travels east and the resulting wind speed and direction. Since the race started in 1989-90, it was only during that first edition that a skipper raced into this area. Guy Bernardin sailed into Hobart in the first edition suffering from severe tooth problems. He continued after treatment and finished unclassified.
Dick said today: "I shall be going through the Bass Strait. There are too many uncertainties via the south. In the next few hours, we’re going to have to forget the rankings and try to be reasonable. The safety of the boat and the sailor comes before the race. This is a very powerful low and will last for three days from tomorrow with winds above 45 knots reaching 60 or even 70 at times. The seas will be huge with waves in excess of ten metres. There’s no way we are going into that as the situation is dangerous.” The skipper of StMichel-Virbac added, “There are two major options. Either we slow down before the low staying close to the exclusion zone, but the risk is that the seas will be very heavy, if the direction of the low changes. Or you go through the Bass Strait, which means more sailing, but less wind and calmer seas.”
Solo skippers placed fifth to seventh, Yann Eliès, Dick and veteran Jean Le Cam are all severely threatened by the depression, but JP Dick’s timing relative to the system is the worst possible. Eliès is a further 120 miles to the east but is already also racing north east to try to miss the worst of the winds, closest to the centre of the low. And Jean Le Cam (Finistère Mer Vent) has made the decision to route south east, being more than 200 miles further west. He will take this second option and slow right down as he approaches the Antarctic Exclusion Zone. Close to the centre of the system there are 60kts on the GRIB files which usually means more than 70kts in reality. If Jean-Pierre Dick’s timing is as unfortunate as it can be, some 500 miles or so to their east, and now racing in the Pacific, third placed Paul Meilhat (SMA) and Jérémie Beyou (Maitre CoQ) will still have to work hard to outrun the system but their luck is in.
Meilhat, the 34 year old Vendée Globe first timer remains on impeccable form. Only one year ago, on 15th December, he was airlifted off his IMOCA near the Azores after suffering injured ribs and pelvis during the B2B transatlantic race back from Saint Barth to Lorient. He races the former MACIF, François Gabart’s 2012-13 race winner, which remains largely unchanged. “Only the paintjob is different,” Marcus Hutchinson, Project Director, comments. “We thought long and hard about whether to fit foils and have no regrets,” he said today during the Vendée LIVE programme before speaking to Meilhat. The relative simplicity and straightforward, easily driven set up of the boat, as it was for Gabart, is Meilhat’s favourite aspect. “I think this boat is easy to manage. I am happy with it. It is a good boat for the Vendée Globe. I know the boat as well as anyone. It does not have foils but I am happy and use this boat at 100 per cent and full speed. I have all my sails, the boat is good,” Meilhat confirmed in today’s video conference in English, “Every day I have small problems to fix. I think after half way of the Vendée Globe I’ll try to keep the boat like this. The most difficult thing is that the boat is always moving and moving a lot. It is a bit stressful. It is hard to sleep. You are just beginning to sleep and then you take a big, big wave and the speed increases so much. Then you are at 30kts and you hit the wave in front and the boat stops. So sometimes it is hard. But I think tonight it will be a good night.” Talking about what the race record holder Gabart passed on to the young skipper, Meilhat – a former 49er Skiff and Figaro sailor, said: “François told me, most of all, to take pleasure, to enjoy it. I think that was good advice.” Quiet, understated but clearly blessed with the same solid constitution, stamina and comfort at high speeds over long periods as his winning predecessor, Meilhat has a bright future ahead of him.
Low Pressure Negotiations
Negotiating the light wind centre of a depression has seen Alex Thomson, the skipper who came within a hairbreadth of the WSSRC stipulation for the 24-hour record last month, has suffered a short interlude with the slowest speeds of his race so far, making around two knots between five and nine this morning. Hugo Boss has been going northwards around the centre of the low and should emerge into downwind conditions while Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Polulaire VIII) has remained quicker again, today winning back on the roundabouts what he lost yesterday on the swings.
No Way Out
The last few days have tested Dutch skipper Pieter Heerema’s patience close to its limits. Lying in 19th place the skipper of No Way Back has routed north as he struggles with ongoing problems with his autopilots. He admitted today that had he been closer to Cape Town or Australia the temptation to throw in the towel might have been too much. “Yesterday was a down day,” Heerema told Vendée LIVE. “Everything, everything, everything was working against me. Cape Town is a hell of a way back up the course so that is no option and Australia is long way too and is no option, but if I had been close to a port I would probably have thrown in the towel because everything was going wrong. Today I hope is better. I have repaired a lot of things and will be testing them. If that all works then I will be happy. I have been struggling for days now with the autopilot which went completely crazy, super dangerous, steering into gybes and tacks at high speeds. It was really, really dangerous. I had a list of things I had to do in the light winds. Those were mainly about seven holes or patches in the mainsail. I don’t know where they have come from. It is falling apart as if the moths have been at it. Hopefully the autopilot is now back to where it should be and is working. I know you get an issue a day but this is four or five issues every day. And some of them like electronics, man I have no clue. I don’t know what I am doing. I hate the stuff. To me it is black box. If it is mechanical I can understand it, I can look at it, I can follow it, and if that does it work you give it a mighty kick and usually that solves the problem.”
Paul Meilhat (SMA): “The boat is still fast but things are better because the sea is flat and so now I can get some good sleep. The depression is really bad, the wind is going to be 50-60kts, so for us it is good to be in front of it and to avoid it. After this situation, maybe two or three days after New Zealand, it gets complicated with this Antarctic Exclusion Zone. We go to the south but there is a big, big high pressure and so we will just have to see how it goes.”
Nandor Fa (HUN) Spirit of Hungary: “I have been going fast for a couple of days. At the moment I have some sunshine which is much nicer. The last few days have been cloudy, rainy and cold and it was really negative conditions. Behind us there is a huge front which we are running in front of, with NNW winds and right now we have 28kts of wind speed and making 21kts of boat speed. We have been running like this for two days. We are running at the same speed as the front and so we can stay with it. Before that we had 35-40kts but as soon as it is lighter, I miss my A7 gennaker which I lost earlier in the race.”