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The Pacific is proving particularly unrelenting for the Vendée Globe competitors still racing eastwards towards Cape Horn. There might be the odd pause for a few hours before the next low pressure system kicks them along the course towards deliverance, and the big left turn out of the Southern Ocean and into the more sheltered waters of the Atlantic.

The next wagon train of IMOCA 60s presently routing their approach to the Horn is led by Switzerland's Alan Roura, with Arnaud Boissières and Briton Pip Hare all close behind. These three musketeers should pass between Sunday night and Monday lunchtime.

Roura, 27 years old, heading for his second consecutive Vendée Globe Cape Horn rounding and Boissières his fourth, have gained miles against Hare today, as the British skipper stays a little bit conservative after her rudder problems and conserves her energy for the final push, which will be in strong winds on a big low-pressure system. At the front of it today the two foilers, La Fabrique of Roura and La Mie Caline-Artisans Artipole, have been three or four knots quicker than Hare’s Medallia.

One hundred and fifty miles further astern both Didac Costa, the Spanish skipper of One Planet-One Ocean and Stéphane Le Diraison on Time For Oceans have had their toughest time of the race so far with gusts over 50kts at times, the French skipper giving a vivid description of being knocked nearly flat in a huge squally gust.

“I think I got the worst of it with winds reaching 60 knots and waves with troughs of six to eight metres. The memory of it will stay with me for life. I have this image of a squall in 60 knots of wind, breaking waves, no sail up, the boat on its side in a snowstorm with the wind howling in the rig with a total sense of powerlessness in the face of these crazy conditions. It is mad to watch the sea which is white, almost like frothing milk and spray coming from all angles. It is just quite incredible. I am happy to have experienced it, it is quite an experience on a human level to have come through this, particularly physically, because it is so cold, but also on a mental and stress level, it is extremely demanding.”

He continues. “It is so cold, you just wrap up with all you have, it is just four degrees inside the cabin and then you hear the waves breaking on deck or being knocked down by a wave and you have to get dressed in the wet clothes and go out in the middle of the night. It is then that you have to just not think about it or question yourself. That is why I like that expression you just have to disconnect your brain, to concentrate on what needs to be done. Get out of the bunk, get dressed and go through the list of things that need to be done and leave the analysis of it all for later.”

By way of sharp contrast in the South Atlantic off the coasts of Argentina, Uruguay and the south of Brazil it is hot for leader Yannick Bestaven (Maître CoQ IV) in more ways than one. He has seen his lead shrink from 435 nautical miles to 263 this evening. And in second place Charlie Dalin is pushing Apivia very hard in near ideal foiling conditions, flat seas and 15-17 knots of breeze, constantly making 23-25kts averages to be 50 miles ahead of third placed Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut).

Dalin told Argentina’s three times Olympic medallist Santi Lange today on the Vendée Globe Live show, “I have good conditions to go fast, I currently have 22-23 knots of boat speed for 15 knots of wind. So, I am on the right foil. The sea state is getting flatter and I can feel the distance between Yannick and me shrinking so I hope that carries on for as long as possible. It is not going to be a straight line for me onwards, but there is an opportunity here and I am on it.”

Lange, like Dalin a qualified Naval Architect, asked about the foiling ability of the new generation boats in the south and how close they have been to hopes and what they saw during training, Dalin replied:

“It is a lot related to the wind stability. If it is a very gusty day you cannot carry as much sail as if the wind was more stable. And also, the sea state, the sea state was the biggest problem in the Southern Ocean. In the Indian and part of the Pacific we just could not push. The sea state did not permit it. But yesterday I was still under my speed polars, because I was in a 2m seaway. And when I was reaching speeds of 30kts then the slamming is too much. The sea state is such a factor. Obviously, you push less hard than you do in training. You cannot be trimming, on the sheets all the time, you have to be able to leave the boat to go when you are sleeping. You run a few percent below what the boat could do. Sea state and wind stability.”

Of the wind conditions and strategy ahead Dalin concluded: “It is going to be a complicated days ahead, dealing with the high pressure which will pass behind Thomas and I, and there will be transitions and the trade winds and this high pressure which is really, really complicated with a big area of no wind. It is changing all the time on the GRIB files. It is going to be a tough ascent to tackle I see there is an opportunity to catch up. So hopefully it will go OK.”

In ninth place, this evening Germany’s Boris Herrmann has ground in Italian skipper Giancarlo Pedote and the two were racing in sight of each other.

Six hundred and sixty miles behind Bestaven and 134 miles from fifth, Herrmann said, “I am in sight of Giancarlo. We are through the strongest winds on the low, I hope, I think. It is pretty light right now. I am a little suspicious this might be just a little joke to then to knock us down in half an hour or do we set more sail. I think I might go up to the J2 from the J3 and two reefs. The sea state was better than expected. In general, this whole system was gentler than expected. I was not looking forwards to the system but in the end so far so good. Now we are sailing downwind with this flow for 12 hours or so, then gybing away. We have a huge lull Sunday evening before we enter the trade winds. I think I will postpone my champagne until we are in the trade winds. There is always something to do and there is not yet a moment to appreciate champagne properly. So far so good.

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Even with the Vendee Globe's relatively slow race pace – compared to the 74-day record of the 2016-17 race, there are some interesting statistics now coming to the surface of the single-handed non-stop yacht race around the world that is expected to finish in France later this month: 

Some statistics:

  • Leader Yannick Bestaven has completed 78% of the route compared with 48% for the last-placed Sébastien Destremau
  • The Skipper the most times at the top of the official rankings, Charlie Dalin (137 times) who will be matched this evening by Yannick Bestaven
  • 10 leaders have lead since the start (in order according to the time spent in the lead): Charlie Dalin, Yannick Bestaven, Alex Thomson, Thomas Ruyant, Jean Le Cam, Maxime Sorel, Jérémie Beyou, Damien Seguin, Louis Burton, Benjamin Dutreux.
  • Longest distance covered in 24 hours since the start: Thomas Ruyant, on November 21, 2020 with 513.3 miles (954.3 km), at an average speed of 21.6 knots.
  • Now more than 30 ascents up the mast to make repairs
  • Actual distances sailed and average race speed of the leaders:
    Apivia 22 296.81 nms 15.2kts
    LinkedOut 22 286.49nms 15.2kts
    Maître Coq IV 22 022.01nms 15.0kts
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British skipper Pip Hare kept her Vendée Globe on course when she replaced her damaged port rudder on Medallia yesterday evening, completing the difficult operation in the South Pacific Ocean some 1000 miles west of Cape Horn.

Having discovered a crack in the shaft of her rudder, the 45-year-old had no alternative to stop her IMOCA 60, drop out of the damaged rudder and ship the spare in 20 knots of wind and a big Pacific swell.

Hare may have lost two places, dropping to 17th, but the English solo racer who is on her first time ever in the Southern Ocean, has kept her race alive and – if she maintains the same pace as today – she should reach Cape Horn and deliverance from the south on Monday afternoon or evening.

“Every part of my body aches. I have bloody knuckles on every finger, bruises all down my legs and muscles I didn't know I had that hurt but YES!!!!! The new rudder is in and Medallia is back in the game. Yesterday I was scared and apprehensive. The conditions were far from ideal, a big swell and a forecast for a light patch between gales. I talked through the procedure with Joff and with Paul, the main concern was slowing the boat down enough to get the rudder in and then the boat landing on the rudder stock and doing damage to either. Eventually with a drogue out of the back and under bare poles in 16-18 knots of breeze I went for it”.

She noted this morning, “I think the whole procedure took about an hour and a half with many hours of preparation and packing up before and after. My heart was in my mouth for the whole time. I ran around the cockpit, winding winches, pulling ropes, sliding over the to the back of the boat to grab, yank, manhandle, rudder ropes and anchor chain. Once I was committed to doing it there was nothing that was going to get in my way. There were some tough moments and I had to plead with my boat and the ocean a couple of times but when that new rudder stock finally came shooting up through the deck level bearing the out loud whooping that came from me could easily have been heard for miles around... if anyone had been there to hear it.”

In an emotional exchange this afternoon with Swiss ace Bernard Stamm who built Medallia as Superbigou 20 years ago and won two solo round the world races on her, he told her, “You are my hero. What you did is incredible. I hope you have no more problems before you finish back in Les Sables d’Olonne."

Hare was making 14.5 to 15 knots this Friday afternoon with some 900 miles to Cape Horn.

And among her group, the impatience to pass Cape Horn becomes more pressing for the pack which extends from Alan Roura (now 15th), to Kojiro Shiraïshi (21st). This morning, after finding a tear on his J2, Jérémie Beyou (18th) sounded utterly fed up: “Since the Tasman the wind has not dropped below 35 knots, it's just wearing. Three days ago it was just rubbish, it was super violent. It was between 6 and 7 meters troughs and it was coming from the side breaking, so the boat was going in a wave and suddenly a breaking wave was coming from the side. I got thrown to the back of the boat a few times.”

At the back of this group, Manu Cousin today has his own share of problems. His boat made an involuntary gybe, breaking a mainsail batten car broke, tearing the mainsail just above the 3rd reef, forcing the adopted Les Sablais racer to drop the main and sail at low speed under J3 alone, knowing that this small headsail is also showing some signs of weakness.

Even with the relatively slow race pace – compared to the 74-day record of the 2016-17 race - food supplies are not yet an issue, even still with some having their Deep South requirement of about 7,000 calories a day. "I have enough to go around the world for the second time," laughs Alexia Barrier. That is not the case for second-placed Thomas Ruyant who only took 80 days of food and so says he will be missing breakfasts and a few sweet snacks by the time he reaches Les Sables d’Olonne later this month.

Bestaven slowed but still over 400 miles ahead

Ruyant is just determined to do the best he can. He has come back nicely at second-placed Charlie Dalin since Cape Horn, steadily gnawing back miles to be racing side by side some 15 miles apart in what is more and more looking set to be a race to the finish line of Figaro offshore one design level intensity. Weather files now predict the top group to become more and more compact. Ruyant needs to make another mast climb to repair an wind vane which is depriving him of wind mode (his 5th climb). But the match race with Apivia, the two Verdier designs seven miles apart still, is precluding Ruyant’s next mast ascent.

Leader Yannick Bestaven still has some 411 miles in hand over Dalin and Ruyant, Damien Seguin (Groupe APICIL) is fourth 51 miles behind.

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Britain’s Pip Hare is looking for a benevolent small weather window in the depths of the South Pacific Ocean to allow her to replace the port rudder of her IMOCA Medallia after she discovered a crack in its stock (the shaft which locates into the hull of the boat). It is a complicated operation which the 45-year-old solo Vendée Globe skipper practised at the dock in Les Sables d’Olonne, France before the solo non-stop race around the world started on November 8th 2020, but which will be made much more difficult in one of the most hostile and loneliest areas of the southern oceans.

“The crack is in the stock between the deck and the hull, just underneath where the quadrant attaches and every time the pilot was going to move the rudder the crack was getting a little bit worse. I have no choice but to change the port rudder. If I continue sailing hard the stock will fail under load in a matter of hours.” Hare reported, “Naturally I am completely devastated about this failure and what it means to my race but the only thing to do right now is to put the racing on hold and focus on solving this problem to keep both me and Medallia safe.”

In her message the 45-year-old from Poole, Dorset, added,

“I am devastated but I am also accepting. This has happened and it cannot be changed. The only action now is to deal with the problem in the best way possible and then move forwards from there. I am hugely proud of my performance to date. It has been a total joy to race this intensely for 59 days and it will be a total joy to get back into the race when I am finished. I had a few tears but not many because this problem is a big one and there is only one way to deal with it - which is a total focus of energy on solving it and staying safe. I will never forget the fact I was 15th for so long and when I get back to racing again, whenever that may be I will do my very best to claw my way back up the fleet again for now I have just hit pause.”

Her team say that Hare is looking to a potential break in the weather during the small hours of tomorrow (Thursday) morning, when the operation might be possible.Medallia’s boat captain Joff Brown explains the procedure:

“The problem really is in getting the old rudder off because it is buoyant and so sinking it to get it out it is not easy to get a lot of leverage from the bottom. But it is something we had practiced in Les Sables d’Olonne before the start and so I think that gives Pip a bit of confidence in what she has to do. But the problem is the sea state has to be reasonably flat because when the rudder is angled and heels then there is more strain on the bearings. At the dock this whole process might take an hour or so but in seas like this it can take much more. But Pip is very focused and determined. There is a small weather window around 0100hrs (UTC – when it is still daylight for Pip) but if not then it could be a couple of days waiting. She is resigned to the situation and I am sure will deal with it and get on with what she has to do.”

Medallia had a new spare rudder built by Jason Carrington Boats just before the boat was delivered to Les Sables d’Olonne. According to Brown this a standard procedure which he has practiced pre-start by previous skippers Dee Caffari and Rich Wilson previously using a method devised by Conrad Humphreys in 2004-5 where 50-60kgs of anchor chain is lowered below the rudder to help drop it out. See video here

Medallia was lying in 15th in the Vendée Globe fleet and still making just under eight knots under reduced sail. Alan Roura who is 16th is around 20 miles behind.

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Escaping first out of a high pressure which had slowed the leading four boats, Vendee Globe leader Yannick Bestaven the skipper of Maître Coq has gained over 200 miles on the solo skippers immediately behind him. The 48-year-old from La Rochelle has the biggest lead of the race yet at 440 nautical miles, ahead of Thomas Ruyant (LinkedOut) who passed Charlie Dalin (Apivia) again today, the French duo match racing only 12 miles apart today some 400 miles SE of Mar del Plata, Argentina.

Bestaven, freshly shaved and looking bright, said: "It's great to have been able to pass the high-pressure zone, I was able to gain some miles and then make good speed, it hasn’t been bad at all. I am satisfied with that, but when I look at what is going to happen ahead of me... I feel like the bungee cord is going to snap back and those behind me will start closing the gap. I hope there will be enough wind, as I only have a few tens of miles of advantage left. But I can’t let it stress me, I’m going to have to keep a cool head because I am going to lose a lot of ground again.”

He joked, “I don't know who has been in charge of the weather during this Vendée Globe, but I’m telling you, we need a new meteorologist! It looks like everything has been working against us being able to arrive quickly back in Les Sables d'Olonne! The situation is very complicated, there are some lows which will suck up all the wind. Forming a strategy is difficult, because different models are showing different things. I don't think that anyone really knows how it's going to play out, but we'll have to be on top of it. I'm going fast but I'm also resting a lot to make sure I have my eyes wide open during the difficult 24/48 hours ahead, and be able to make the most of the wind that there is. I’ll have to approach at low a speed in the north to pick up on new winds. It will be a bit "Figaro-esque” and I know I have experts behind me. It won’t be a walk in the park! I’m going to try to make some real headway towards the end goal.”

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(Vendée Globe Day 59 - Leader 750 miles east of Puerto Santa Cruz, Argentina) Rested and fully energised in beautiful sunshine, climbing north up the South Atlantic, the mercury rising and sailing in a moderate breeze, Vendée Globe leader Yannick Bestaven’s strategic choices may prove better than his off quay rendition of a Jonny Hallyday classic, but with a margin of over 170 miles – and at times peaking at over 20 knots earlier today, the 48-year-old skipper of Maître Coq IV had every reason to be in full voice in a video he sent today.

The weather modelling is quite unreliable where the race leaders are – as they proved on the descent of the Atlantic some five weeks ago – but there seems to be a chance that Bestaven might be able to wriggle out of a high-pressure system and escape from his pursuers on a small depression which would slingshot him north. The next 48 hours will be key.

At the same time as Bestaven was lapping up the sunshine, enjoying the benefits of leading the fleet into escalating temperatures, 750 nautical miles behind Germany’s Boris Herrmann was wrestling with some of the toughest moments of his race on SeaExplorer - Yacht Club de Monaco. At some 150 miles from his fourth racing rounding of the Cape, Herrmann tore the leech of his mainsail and so had to sail all the way past the horn only under his J3 – small headsail, dropping to be 10th at the Cape, the passage of which, he reported later, he hardly noticed in the 40-45 knots winds.

Exhausted after the marathon repair, Herrmann reported late this afternoon, “I am happy to have got around the Horn but I hardly noticed it. I was just fully focused on repairing my mainsail. South of Cape Horn at 140 miles something like that I knew there was quite a bit of wind coming, 45-50 and I was going down through the sequence J3 and two reefs and was about to take the third reef and the leech of the sail caught the shrouds.”

He explained, “Luckily I was able to repair it. And that makes me really happy. It was complicated because it was structural, I had to dry and clean two layers up there in 45 knots of wind, it was pretty hairy on deck and I suppose it was well intentioned, but I finished today in the sunshine in the Atlantic. And now it is finally great to be in the Atlantic, sunshine, lighter winds and blue skies. And I have a mainsail up and that is just great.”

From early this morning there was an unprecedented number of boats passing Cape Horn in short order. Four solo skippers passed Cape Horn in a period of less than four hours. Between 0240hrs UTC on Monday morning when Damien Seguin (Group APICIL) rounded and 0401hrs Tuesday morning when Isabelle Joschke (MACSF) rounded in 11th, eight IMOCA skippers rounded the famous Cape Horn and passed back into the Atlantic after over one month in the Southern Oceans.

At 0016hrs UTC last night it was the first Horn rounding in the career of Maxime Sorel (V and B Mayenne), 3hrs and 58 minutes after Jean Le Cam whose seventh time it was. Italy’s Giancarlo Pedote (Prysmian Group) rounded 55 minutes later at 0112hrs to become the first non-French skipper in ninth.

At 0227hrs UTC Boris Herrmann of Germany fighting his problems made his fourth racing passage of his career rounding in tenth position on Seaexplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco, 1hr and 15 minutes after Pedote.

Then at 0401hrs Isabelle Joschke crossed Cape Horn for the first time in her ocean racing career. Racing MACSF she was just 1hr and 34 mins behind Herrmann.

Next to pass, and certain of mean, nasty Cape Horn conditions will be Clarisse Crèmer (Banque Populaire X) this evening followed by Armel Tripon (L’Occitane en Provence).

Second-placed Charlie Dalin (Apivia) took time to reflect on the two different worlds, after his first time in the Southern Ocean:

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Charlie Dalin (Apivia) became the second Vendée Globe skipper to round Cape Horn at 0439hrs early this Sunday morning, the 36-year-old French skipper who originates from Le Havre, passing much closer than leader Yannick Bestaven (Maître Coq IV) did some 14 hours and 56 minutes earlier.

Fighting his way north in 30-35 knot winds on his Verdier designed IMOCA Dalin was just six miles offshore of Cape Horn, passing during the hours of darkness.

But the first timer in the ‘big south’ – as yesterday was Bestaven - completed his initiation as a Cape Horner by calling the keeper of the lonely lighthouse at the end of the world and passing on his thanks and his regards, while quietly savouring the intense relief, the satisfying moments of deliverance into the ‘home’ Atlantic Ocean.

Dalin sounded a tiny note of regret. That he had led at two of the race’s three Great Capes and not the third is contrary to his methodical, empirical mathematician’s mind - his ideal of completing the set.

But if anything it will add fuel to Dalin’s desire to get back on terms with Bestaven during what promises the climb back up the Atlantic that looks set to be every bit as complicated – big picture strategy and small time tactics – as was the descent out of the Saint Helena high into the Roaring Forties five long weeks ago.

“It’s just bliss. A great moment. I am also happy to no longer have the big seas that have been with us us for several days ” said Dalin who described himself as a ‘perfectionist and an optimalist, someone who will always do the best I can with what I have’ before he started his first ever round the world race back in Les Sables d’Olonne. Dalin has had to deal with a compromised port foil bearing which caused him to cede the lead to Bestaven back on December 16th, though he did have the lead again momentarily on Christmas Day.

Bestaven, who is pushing for a more easterly route to the east side of a building high pressure, was almost gushing as he relived his relief during the hours since Cape Horn,
“In my life as a sailor, that was the biggest storm I have ever seen. Mad seas, such as I have never seen so big, and gusts of 60 knots. It’s a huge relief now because it’s been so hard ”.

Bestaven looked drained said on the French Live today. “When I got into the calm I was totally knocked for six, I was really exhausted.”

Dalin, also speaking on the Live today smiled broadly, “I celebrated by putting up more sail (laughs). I passed close to the islands, the rocks no doubt, it was the first land I had seen since the islands of Trinidad. I had forgotten that it existed after so many days. The continental shelf was parallel to the swell and the wind, so I didn't notice any difference in the sea state. On the other hand, I had to get offshore a bit so that I did not end up in the windshadow.”

Talking of the change of regime, Dalin, “Jean Luc Bernot always tells us that we have to change our mode after Cape Horn, I'm going to do that. It's a good thing to be back in the Atlantic. I'm happy to have finished with the Pacific. It's a new phase of the race. I've been working for a few days now on the strategy for the climb back up, there are quite a few things going on.”

A complicated South Atlantic….Again!

Now the strategy for the climb back to the Equator is all about looking long term. The initial strategies seem to see Bestaven going east to get round the east of the anticyclone and Dalin trying to work west to get through the initial light phase earlier. Dalin – looking like he will pass inside Staten Island through the Le Maire Straits - will gain initially but the real outcome would not be seen for more than ten days when they finally get back to the trade winds of the Saint Helena anticyclone.

Sébastien Josse, weather consultant to the Vendée Globe explains, “We see this high pressure going east and so for Maître Coq he has to stay to the right, to the east of the high pressure but it is moving quite fast but he can end up parked in this area of light winds. He has to manage the high pressure but to stay to the east and in ten days it is about catching the trade winds of Saint Helena. So it is a hard job to make a strategy for the long term.”

He adds, “There is a lot of work right now ahead of them, one high pressure, one low pressure and a high pressure to get to the Trade Winds and beyond that to the Doldrums. So the next 14 days will be hard, intense work for the two leaders.”

The mountain ranges in southern Chile rise to more than 3,000 meters and the islands of Patagonia have peaks of nearly 1,000 metres. In the W’ly wind there can be very many areas of light winds especially closer to the land. And even though weather modelling has improved a lot here, the reality on the water is often different from the models. And as Dalin notes today, they are out of big ocean mode and back into regatta mode, from maintaining high, safe average to fine tuning, sleeping less and trimming more, looking for every marginal gain.

A high pressure system is developing now from the coast of South America, north of the Falkland Islands. It will then gradually extend to the AEZ forcing the second group to cross it or make a big detour to the east, but with no real certainty of finding any extra wind.

Christian Dumard, the weather specialist who works in tandem with Josse, confirms, “There are two possible options, to the follow the direct, shortest route north and try to push through the high before it expands too much, or to go east in search of more wind which is the better long term option.”

Thomas Ruyant (Linked Out) and Damien Seguin (Groupe Apicil) are neck-and-neck in their race to be third at Cape Horn, Seguin a matter of five or six miles closer to the rock (14:00 ranking). With 195 nautical miles to go the pair should round in quick succession Monday morning, and might consider a late breakfast back in the Atlantic…..

Ranking at 17:00

1. Yannick Bestaven [Maître CoQ IV] —> 6,815.71 nm from the finish
2. Charlie Dalin [ Apivia ] —> 68.48 nm from the leader
3. Thomas Ruyant - [ LinkedOut ]—> 357.91 nm from the leader
4. Damien Seguin [ Groupe Apicil ] —> 359.9 nm from the leader
5. Benjamin Dutreux [ OMIA Water Family ] —> 553.27 nm from the leader

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Alone, surfing north eastwards in the grip of stormy winds and seas, passing 85 miles south of the famous solitary rocky islet, the huge whoop of delight from 48 years old Vendée Globe leader Yannick Bestaven when he finally passed Cape Horn this afternoon marked in an instant his victorious end to the relentless Southern Oceans and the start of the 7,000 miles climb homewards to Les Sables d’Olonne.

When Bestaven doubled the mythical lighthouse- at 13:42hrs UTC this Saturday afternoon 55 days and 22 minutes after the Vendée Globe start on Sunday 8th November, it concluded a remarkably successful first time in the Southern Ocean.

A past winner of the Mini-Transat and twice victorious in the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre in Class40, Bestaven – who had never raced south of southern Brazil before - has been in the top three of the fleet since the Kerguelen Islands and took the lead just before the longitude of Tasmania. He has consistently sailed fast on his well prepared and reliable 2015 VPLP Verdier design which he has preserved to ensure he starts the Atlantic climb with his boat and set up at 100% of potential or close to it.

As he rounded he was more than 160 miles ahead of second placed Charlie Dalin (Apivia) with third placed Thomas Ruyant about 458 miles, or one day behind Bestaven’s cheers were as much of relief, successful deliverance from a very intense few days racing hard on the front of a low pressure system with his lead and his boat intact. The passage across the Pacific was punctuated by four days around Christmas in very light winds when there seemed to be a chance Bestaven and Dalin might be caught, but Bestaven - who grew up in Arcachon to the south of the French Atlantic coast – sailed impeccably, always pushing hard on fast, direct courses along the Antarctic Exclusion Zone.

And doubtless Bestaven’s huge holler at the third of the course’s three Great Capes further exorcised the ghost of his one and only previous Vendée Globe attempt, when he was dismasted in a brutal Biscay storm only 24 or so hours into the epic 2008 race.

The solo racer is also one of three skippers who remain on course who helped in the search for Kevin Escoffier when he had to abandon PRB on 30th November. And so while his lead over Dalin is 160 miles right now, Bestaven also is another 10 hours and 15 minutes to the good because of the allocation by the International Jury to compensate for his time taken to help in the search.

Bestaven’s passage time since the Les Sables d’Olonne start is more than eight days slower than the 47 days record pace set by Armel Le Cléac’h in 2016 and three days slower than 2012’s 52 days mark by François Gabart and one day and 15 hours faster than Michel Desjoyeaux in 2008.

"I'm stubborn, that's one of my big faults but also one of my qualities" revealed the marine engineer on the pontoons of Les Sables d'Olonne a few days before the start. "I also am very resilient. And I have a strong mind in difficult conditions ". As he has proven over the last month in the Southern Ocean where he grew in skill and stature.

Bestaven said this morning “I had to believe in my options and in my route without worrying too much about what my competitors could do. I had to be stubborn, especially when I stayed along the ice barrier. But I didn't think you could go so far into the human body to physically and mentally overcome all the stress, the cold, the damp, the loneliness. There were some magical moments and some very hard ones like when the boat broached and I was on the deck in the middle of the night wondering what the hell I was doing there."

Dalin – also a first timer - should round Cape Horn in the small hours of Sunday morning. He appears to have slowed more in the big seas and strong winds, making around 15 knots this afternoon when Bestaven seems to have pushed on at 17-19kts at times.

Meantime Briton Pip Hare has been trying to find the best solution to a failed wind wand at the top of the mast of her Medallia. She has only been able to sail on compass mode on her autopilot but this afternoon has been working to find a better solution.

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(Day 54 - 430 miles to Cape Horn this evening) Having been slowed since around 1800hrs UTC yesterday evening to evaluate and then today to make some kind of repair to his port side foil system of APIVIA, Charlie Dalin has dropped to third and lost over 120 miles to his two nearest rivals Thomas Ruyant and Yannick Bestaven. But Dalin, Vendée Globe leader for 23 days up until last night, appears to be back in race mode this afternoon, making over 14kts south eastwards towards the south Pacific Ocean.

Waves as high as a three-storey building and winds gusting to 55kts are expected over a ferocious ten-hour period for Yannick Bestaven and Charlie Dalin as they both seek to double the Horn, the last of the course’s three Great Capes, for the first time.

"A drop for me, a drop for the boat, a drop for Neptune, hoping he might be lenient with us" said second placed Charlie Dalin hopefully very early today, celebrating his arrival into 2021 by sprinkling the cockpit of his yellow hulled IMOCA Apivia with a splash of champagne, after having allowed himself a tiny sip of fizz to celebrate the New Year.

And on the 54th day of racing at 430 miles from Cape Horn, Bestaven and Dalin have made good a very successful but hard-won escape from their nearest challengers. A big jump in the last 48 hours means the duo are now closer to the Cape than the 470 miles – or approximately one day - that now separates Dalin from third-placed Thomas Ruyant.

At least this magnitude of a lead should allow them to throttle right back, settle into survival mode, and miss the worst of the malicious low-pressure system which should be at its worst during Saturday afternoon.

“It feels like it has been a very long time this South. I'm glad it’ll all be done soon. Cape Horn will be an important passage in my head. If I can get round in 3rd position, that would be great” said LinkedOut skipper Thomas Ruyant from his secure position in the bottom of his boat where he grabbed a small morsel of foie gras. Leading the chasing posse Ruyant is sailing behind the low, in a freezing SW’ly wind flow that has seen the whole group accelerate this Friday afternoon. And the pace is as unrelenting as ever once more and the distances between boats in this group are tiny. In eighth Isabelle Joschke on MACSF is in sight of Jean Le Cam – less than two miles between the two – while – in terms of distance to the Horn - there is less than a mile between Benjamin Dutreux on OMIA Water Family in fifth and Boris Herrmann on SeaExplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco in sixth.

New Year celebrations tend to be muted. On Medallia Briton Pip Hare catches a few moments for a blast of music and party popper to celebrate New Year arriving for her with the welcome position report showing she has passed Alan Roura to lie in 15th place, her best yet. And her French counterpart Alexia Barrier had time for a jig of happiness having made several key repairs not least her hydrogenerators.

Take Five

To finish any Vendée Globe is a victory in itself. But with this peloton group which is of unprecedented size – 140 miles between fourth and ninth today - and a truly exceptional level of competitiveness within that hard pressing pack, right now every mile, every place won and lost is big boost to morale. Conversely, in the freezing cold, unsettled winds behind the low, it is hard to accept losses and to constantly look only to the long game.

And at this stage all in the top ten or eleven can realistically still harbour hopes of winning, or being on the podium. But what would be the most common measure of success for this group? Podiums speak for themselves and would be the perfect result but probably most of this group left Les Sables d’Olonne with a place in the top five as their realistic target. And right at this point – because it is so tight – there is as much chance of a place in the top five as there is finishing tenth. In this field on this race fifth would be an exceptional result.

But of course just as every Vendée Globe is different so every fifth place is a unique yardstick and the way it looks now the time deltas between third and tenth can be very small.

In 1996 Briton Pete Goss was fifth in 126 days from six finishers in a time of 126 days, 21 days after the winner Christophe Auguin. In 2000 Dominique Wavre was fifth from 15 finishers, 12 days after the winner, the Swiss skipper having an elapsed time of 105 days. Sébastien Josse was fifth in 2004 but missed fourth by nine hours. Thirteen boats finished and his elapsed time was 93 days. Britain’s Sam Davies was fifth from 11 in 2008 but missed fourth by 20 minutes. At 95 days she was 11 days behind Michel Desjoyeaux. In 2012 it was Jean Le Cam who was fifth from 11 finishers taking 88 days for his lap of the planet, 10 days slower than Francois Gabart. But Mike Golding missed fifth by six hours. And in 2016 when there were 19 finishers it was Yann Eliès who was fifth in 80 days, six days after winner Armel Le Cléac’h. And this time, recall that Le Cam missed fifth by 30 minutes.

Ranking at 1700

1. Yannick Bestaven [Maître CoQ IV] —> 7435.33 nm from the finish
2. Charlie Dalin [ Apivia ] —> 139.66 nm from the leader
3. Thomas Ruyant - [ LinkedOut ]—> 472.83 nm from the leader
4. Damien Seguin [ Groupe Apicil ] —> 527.26 nm from the leader
5. Benjamin Dutreux [ OMIA Water Family ] —> 627.15 nm from the leader

Published in Vendee Globe
Tagged under

For the top group on the Vendée Globe simultaneously the atmosphere is electrifying, stressful and very chilly with 1300 miles to go to Cape Horn mainly because at 55°S the race remains intense for the first fourteen boats, but also because the gaps keep compressing from behind, always seeming to favour skippers chasing the leaders.

And the weather is far from simple as the conclusion of a relentless push across the Pacific approaches. The vital thing in these conditions is achieving the right balance both in terms of the physical approach - trimming and pushing the boat hard enough to not lose too many miles against the opposition – and the mental approach – keeping alert, making the right decisions at the right time and not getting too stressed about the approach of Cape Horn which will be entirely new to all of the top 13 except for Boris Herrmann (3x before), Jean Le Cam (7x before) and Louis Burton (1x before). After 52 days at sea, the solo sailors are entrenched in their rhythm, in tune with their boats and are able to achieve that short to medium-term objective.

The weather pattern that the leaders have to deal with to reach the third of the major capes of the Vendée Globe course is looking complicated. They are caught between a second low-pressure system to their north, which is set to deepen and will offer strong winds along the coast of Chile all the way to the tip of South America, and a narrow corridor of lighter, unstable winds. The frontrunners (Yannick Bestaven, Charlie Dalin and Thomas Ruyant) will need to avoid getting a hammering in 45 knots and 7m high waves, as they approach the Horn. As for those chasing them, they will have to avoid getting slowed down in an area of great instability.

Depending on where they are positioned, each skipper has to adapt their strategy to avoid suffering damage, while attempting not to lose any ground. At the front of the fleet, Yannick Bestaven, Charlie Dalin and Thomas Ruyant are accelerating to stay ahead of the front in order to take advantage of the NW’ly airstream and a more regular swell for as long as possible. Sailing on the port tack on their intact foils, Apivia and LinkedOut have managed to step up the pace today.

All three will however have to adjust their course and speeds to avoid finding themselves in the worst place at the worst time, when the second low-pressure system crosses their path.

In any case, compromise and balance between performance and self-preservation are the watchwords. This is a skill that requires patience and trying to quell any feelings of frustration but that is not always easy.

The stress inevitably mounts

“As these datum points arrive there is a heightened sense of anticipation and Cape Horn is the biggest of them all and the fact that you are past the half way point adds to the stress. But when you are really in your rhythm sometimes you feel like you can go on forever, that was the case for me. Nearly every skipper is looking now to getting out of the Southern Ocean.” Said Mike Golding in today’s English Live show, “But looking at the tracking data I think it is very stressful racing with this ice-barrier always on your right hand side. It is like sailing a coastal race where there is no actual coast. I think that is pretty stressful and if the sailors are struggling with that it is possibly a function of being jammed up against it, especially when it is tight like this in a group.”

And, though looking perky and content with her race so far, crossed the Antimeridian and ‘heading home’ Briton Pip Hare admitted today. Talking of her strategy she said, “I am really thinking about the weather and where I want to be and how much wind I want to be able to push the boat hard. There is a bit of a black art in there, even the first time in the Southern Ocean and I am applying Pip’s rule of thumb as to what the GRIB files say and what I know we will get. I guess the thing just now is there is still half way to go, there is so much ocean to go and at the beginning, I had nothing to lose and now I have something to lose. It is maybe now a little more stressful for me because I am so happy with how I am doing and I don’t want to lose this. Almost inevitably I have Koji and Charal behind and they will come back at me. But I will keep plugging away, doing my best.”

31-year-old in the middle of the Pacific

Clarisse Cremer the young skipper of Banque Populaire X celebrated her 31st birthday today near Point Nemo - in the middle of nowhere. She admitted having to negotiate with herself over and over again: "I try to be fast all the time, keeping myself safe. It's all a story of compromise between performance and keeping the emotions in check. I'm getting to know myself. It’s a real lesson in life. ”

In 12th she is trying to avoid being passed by Armel Tripon, whose black and yellow Sam Maniard foiler continues to gain on her.

"I have super favourable weather up to Cape Horn," Tripon admitted on the French show, “I will try to take this opportunity to stick in my limits. But you have to press. There is still a very high level of commitment from everyone! My goal is to keep coming back while saving my boat. It’s a balance to be found, you have to be careful 

Vendee Globe Ranking: 17:00

1. Yannick Bestaven [Maître CoQ IV] —> 8329.06 nm from the finish
2. Charlie Dalin - [ APIVIA ] —> 106.82 nm from the leader
3. Thomas Ruyant [ LinkedOut ] —> 200.35 nm from the leader
4. Damien Seguin [ Groupe Alpcil ]—> 205.33 nm from the leader
5. Jean Le Cam [ Yes We Cam! ] —> 277.4 nm from the leader

Published in Vendee Globe
Tagged under
Page 4 of 23

William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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