Some time just before 1030hrs UTC this morning Thomas Ruyant on his critically damaged IMOCA Le Souffle du Nord breathed a huge sigh of relief when he took on board two specialist technicians who were armed with a pump.
With the bow section of his IMOCA flooded and the stern clear of the water, the boat pitching out of control he had spent many uncertain hours fighting to bring his boat to safety, often losing steerage In big seas and buffeting winds which gusted to over 55 knots, Ruyant thought many times he was on the absolute brink of losing his boat and having to activate a rescue plan. The epic struggle of 35 year-old Vendée Globe first timer from the north east of France looked set to reach its best possible outcome, given the substantial structural damage to his boat. At 1530hrs UTC, with the two specialists on board and the pump working, Le Souffle du Nord was 25 miles – or about four hours – from the haven of Bluff, the southernmost town on South Island, New Zealand. Ruyant has limped more than 220 miles with his boat which threatened to split in two after hitting a hard object, which he believes to have been a shipping container, at 17kts on Sunday evening.
“A few hours ago I thought it was all over for my mighty boat,” Ruyant told his team this morning. “I could no longer make headway in 45 knots of wind. I was below with one finger on the beacon button to ask to be picked up. I thought I was going to lose Le Souffle du Nord forever. I rounded up every couple of minutes. I couldn't control my boat with the damage to the steering system. The rig was limp and I no longer had any backstays. It was all hanging by a thread. After that tricky moment and rounding the famous cape, I realised that I was going to make it. There was an incredible moment of satisfaction with the sun going down along the coast of New Zealand.”
At the front of the Vendée Globe fleet race leader Armel Le Cléac'h had Banque Populaire VIII back in the money today, averaging over 20kts for sustained periods in a brisk southerly wind, making 449 nautical miles in the 24 hours to 1400hrs this afternoon. He is expected at Cape Horn Friday morning. The French skipper may have a lead of more than 500 miles, but second placed British skipper Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) may yet profit from expected light winds and a high pressure zone installed north and east of the famous Cape Horn which might slow Le Cléac'h while Hugo Boss comes back at speed with stronger southerly winds on 23rd December.
5 skippers grouped together at the longitude of Cape Leeuwin
Fabrice Amedeo (Newrest-Matmut) passed the second major cape in the Vendée Globe, Cape Leeuwin at 0800 UTC this morning. He was followed four hours later by Alan Roura (La Fabrique). They are leading a group of five boats that are within 200 miles of each other. In a few hours, it will be the turn of Irishman, Enda O'Coineen (Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland), then the American, Rich Wilson (Great American IV) and finally Frenchman, Eric Bellion (CommeUnSeulHomme).
Wilson, who today was less than 30 miles from the Irish skipper who is presently racing with no computers and limited electrical instrumentation, confirmed today that he has seen the faint lights of O'Coineen's Kilcullen Voyager Team Ireland as it overtook him. Because the Irish skipper is racing ‘blind' Wilson spoke several times to O'Coineen last night to update him with the relative position of both boats. Rich Wilson recounted today: “We had an extensive conversation on the VHF (with Enda O'Coineen). He was overtaking me and has computer, electronic and AIS problems and he was not able to see us. So he also has some problems with the reefing system in the main and has still got one reef in the main. He is going like crazy. He would give me my GPS coordinate and I would plot them into Adrena and I could see where he was relative to us. Our radar was not able to pick him up as he was coming up from behind. He was shadowed by the mast. Over a couple of hours we spoke a couple of times. He was advancing on us and crossed our wake on the last position report at about five miles back. I was able to go out of the cockpit after a few minutes and just faintly pick out his lights. He was in good spirits and working away at things. He was going incredibly fast at the same time.”
There has been respite between two systems for the group of five, today enjoying 20-knot NW'ly wind and slight seas, allowing them to go outside to check wear and tear on the deck hardware and carry out a few repairs to get ready for the Pacific. The next waypoint will in fact be Cape Horn. “Incredible! I can hardly believe it. This is going to be the best Christmas of my life, even if I'm going to miss my friends and family, wrote Alan Roura this morning. The Vendée Globe competitors have little time to ponder their loneliness, “It took me three hours to bring down the mainsail, change the broken car and then hoist it again. It's annoying. I have quite a few little jobs to do and someone seems to have it in for me. I still have a winch to repair and there goes my day,” Arnaud Boissières told Vendée Live at midday. Nandor Fa and Fabrice Amedeo have also been busy repairing sails, while Jérémie Beyou has had a serious ingress of water.
EXTRACTS FROM TODAY'S RADIO SESSIONS
Jérémie Beyou, (Maître CoQ) : “It's been a tricky night on Maître CoQ. The wind got up to over thirty knots. I grabbed some time to rest and when I woke up, it felt odd, as if the boat had stopped. After a quick inspection, I discovered the sail hold had been flooded. The ballast hole cover out on deck was missing and with the boat heeled over, the leeward section was filling with water. At the same time, the foil housing, was leaking water into the sail hold due to the pressure of so much speed. I opened the inspection hatch a few days ago and it probably wasn't sealed right when it closed. I blocked the hole with some underwear and tarpaulin and that's working for the moment. I haven't managed to stop the leak from the ballast housing and will have to be down to less than 15 knots to do that. Consequently the pumps have been working all out for the past few hours. I'm hoping for some calmer conditions in the coming hours to repair all that.”
Paul Meilhat (SMA): "The wind has eased. We still have a southerly, but I have to keep changing the sails. Things should improve in 24 hours. We are riding on the back of the low and picked up the wind a couple days ago. There is a tricky moment when we reach the middle. We can't really get away from it. I was the first to run into the light winds. It's nice that Jérémie is alongside, but we can't talk over the VHF any more. I should be rounding Cape Horn in around a week. What is hard is that the wind is very unstable. It's hard to rest with such shifts and the need to trim all the time. The sea state is fine. There's a big swell from the west. I don't feel cold, which is surprising.”
Jean-Pierre Dick (StMichel-Virbac): “Conditions are good with the wind on the beam. It's dull, raining and the boat is slamming a lot, but the good thing is the boat is fast and on a good route, which is the most important thing as this is a race after all. It's not going to last forever, as the front will overtake me and I'll be sailing downwind like my friends. That will mean a lot more manoeuvres. I hope to get lucky to narrow the gap. At the moment it is around 600 miles to those ahead. In the South Atlantic, there will be possibilities. My foils are really useful at the moment. I'm fully using them as I'm making the most of these exceptional conditions. In the end my option via Tasmania wasn't so crazy.”
Romain Attanasio (Famille Mary-Etamine du Lys): "I have 25 knots of wind, which means it's like being on holiday after three days in 40-45 knots of wind. I was at the end of my tether. It was tough. I'm moving towards the north as there is a storm arriving and don't want to see it. On the charts they are talking about fifty knots, which probably means 65 knots and severe gusts. I'll be going up to 38°S with the worst weather down at 42°S. I'll go around the north of the low. I have another 200 miles further north to go. Then, I'll gybe and the low will pass to my south. Yesterday I had 45 knots, but it wasn't so much the wind as the sea state. Nasty cross seas with waves slamming into us from everywhere. You can hardly move around the boat and it's exhausting. There comes a point, when you just want it to stop.”
Arnaud Boissières, La Mie Câline; “I have just finished changing my mainsail batten and have just hoisted the sail. There's a bit of wind. It took me three hours in all to bring down the sail, change the car and hoist it again. I have had quite a lot of little jobs to do. Desjoyeaux said there's a problem to deal with each day. I still have a winch to repair and there goes my day. To the south of Australia, we should get fine conditions. I hope to get the most out of the boat. I'm not too worried about the Pacific, even if the connection between the Indian and Pacific isn't going to be easy.