Persistent light winds in the middle of the Pacific, nearly half way between New Zealand and Cape Horn means the chasing pack, led by rookie Paul Meilhat (SMA), are slashing their distance to the two Vendée Globe leaders Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) and Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire VIII).
Le Souffle du Nord, skipper Thomas Ruyant (FRA) at start of the Vendee Globe, in Les Sables d'Olonne, France, on November 6th, 2016 - Photo Jean-Marie Liot / DPPI / Vendee GlobeLe Souffle du Nord, skipper Thomas Ruyant (FRA) au départ du Vendée Globe,Meilhat was 1300 miles behind the second placed British skipper five days ago. The difference between the two this afternoon is reduced to 835 miles. Thomson’s speeds remain slower than that of the leader, with long time rival Le Cléac’h making 19kts today to the 11kts of Hugo Boss some 200 miles to the north. While the Pacific is proving a strategic and tactical chessboard for the two leaders, the messy high pressure areas mixed with a couple of small depressions which will serve more as obstacles than a chance to be propelled faster towards Cape Horn, the South Indian Ocean is baring its teeth for the main peloton of the race. In particular, 450 miles east of the Kerguelens the oldest and youngest skippers Alain Roura (La Fabrique) and Rich Wilson (Great American IV) and Irish skipper Enda O’Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland) have the worst conditions for the fleet, with 35 to 40kts. Alan Roura, 23 years old, reported: “We’re in survival mode. There is a lot of wind and heavy seas and the boat is slamming. I have to keep up the speed, otherwise everything would break. The Indian is a real devil. You have to fight hard every day. Conditions are going to stay difficult for three days. We are prepared for this sort of stuff, but you never know exactly what it is going to be like. It’s impossible to get any comfort here. It’s impossible to eat and we’re soaked when we sleep. Even opening the door is complicated as there’s so much water. I hope to get away from this soon and will have a sip of rum to celebrate.”
The stormy low is now catching Arnaud Boissières and Conrad Colman 450 miles ahead. The skipper from Les Sables d’Olonne who is seeking to finish his third consecutive Vendée Globe has taken a course 150 miles to the north of Colman. “This evening, we’re likely to get a real kick up the backside. I am adopting a cautious position. I don’t want to find myself with 45 knots of wind gusting to 60, close to the exclusion zone, which comes back up at the longitude of Cape Leeuwin,” said Boissieres.
Nandor Fa, the indefatigable Hungarian skipper, has lost a three metre composite fairing off the after edge of his keel blade on Spirit of Hungary. There is no structural compromise, but Fa says he feels the difference and the lost fairing leaves an audible hum off his keel. He lies 11th, 560 miles ahead of Colman who was his co-skipper in the last Barcelona World Race.
Thomas Ruyant, the 34 year old French rookie, who steps up to the Vendée Globe with the VPLP-Verdier design which was formerly Kito de Pavant’s Groupe Bel, has tasted success in the Mini 6.50 class, the Figaro and Class 40 before taking on the famous solo race around the world. He lost touch with the leading group when he had to divert north to make repairs to his ballast scoop, but has been making back miles in eighth place. Ruyant crossing into the Pacific tomorrow, is now 370 miles behind Yann Eliès, profiting from the enforced slow down by the two skippers in front who had to negotiate a big storm. He is the first skipper since Joé Seeten in 2000-2001 from NE France to take on the Vendée Globe.
Supported by Le Souffle du Nord, a collective of some 200 companies and enterprises from the region, Ruyant spoke in the French Vendée LIVE to Géry Trentesaux, the well known French owner who has more than 20 years of offshore racing successes to his credit, including the 2006 Route du Rhum and winner of the 2015 Fastnet Race, second in the last Sydney-Hobart, who is a prominent successful businessman and investor from the France’s far north spoke with Ruyant: “Before entering the Pacific, we have to deal with a small transition between Tasmania and New Zealand. It’s not easy, as we saw with the boats ahead. It’s hard to determine the right route. My boat is in perfect shape. I took the time to do things properly. The repairs are good and now I can focus on the performance of the boat and the conditions that lie ahead. I’m spending a lot of time inside and managing to eat and sleep well. That’s important to be able to continue. I’ll be on the port tack for a while before the transition. Unfortunately, I have had a problem with my special sail, which is designed for the Southern Ocean. It was Michel Desjoyeaux, who came up with that. It’s used for sailing downwind and is efficient in 30-40 kts of wind. After my ballast problem, I didn’t feel too happy about getting my water scoop back in the water. When I had the leak, it was like a geyser inside the boat and you don’t forget that. But now I’m back to 100% and have narrowed the gap with the boats ahead. It’s going to be my turn to have some complicated conditions. I might ease off to stay in acceptable conditions and let the worst of the heavy weather go off to Tasmania. There’s still a long way to go. The most important thing is looking after the boat and ensuring the boat is in good edition in the Pacific. This is the final narrow stretch before the open seas, where there are more choices of trajectory. I’ll feel more relaxed in the Pacific. This is one of the key moments in the Vendée Globe for me.”
Enda O Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland): “They say that life on the ocean wave is romantic. Well going to bed in your long johns, top layers, huddled in one sleeping bag, inside another sleeping bag with a sleeping cap to boot - and one eye almost always on the compass and wind instruments - would swiftly shatter any romantic notions. If this is their Summer - I would rather have two 'mothers-in-law' than spend winter here. Like the madman replied when asked why he was banging his head against the bed post "it’s great when you stop." And that's how I sleep in the cold Southern Ocean from time to time. Always in an extra alert position to movement changes in the boat - different to the normal battering, clanging and pounding in the waves. Like a musical instrument, the musician instinctively, like the sailor, knows if there is something not quite right. Lovers are the same.”
Pieter Heerema (No Way Back): “After the front yesterday it became really nice. Last night was fabulous: wind, huge swell, not like mountains but like mountain ranges. Fantastic full moon made it a splashing orgy of silver light and boat speed. Very early this morning on top of the L it got rougher and the last bit I am experiencing now. It should all even out soon though and give the opportunity to speed up again. Happy with my choice to make the detour north to avoid the strongest of the fronts and L's, even if the price has been more distance to the pack ahead. Autopilot did very well in the big swell at high speed last night and the rudders are also now proven under control, so hopefully the second part of the Indian Ocean will be quicker.”