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the same only different

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Vendée Globe Update

It has been a full week since the Vendée Globe fleet took off from Les Sables d’ Olonne on the west coast of France and it’s been a week full of high speeds and action. It has also been one of the easier starts to the Vendée Globe which in previous years has seen mass catastrophes and boat failures in the first 48 hours. Instead the skippers and their space-age crafts have rocketed south with brisk northerlies giving way to a Trade Wind flow around the Azores High.

Britain’s Alex Thomson aboard Hugo Boss took an early lead as the conditions were perfect for his foils and he and the other foilers made excellent speeds in near perfect conditions. Thompson was followed closely by The Jackal, the nickname given to Armel Le Cléac’h, the skipper of Banque Populaire and so called by his relentless ability to hunt down and overtake competitors. Indeed this is exactly what happened as Thompson, following his pre-race strategy, gybed inshore only to find less breeze a bad gybing angle to come back out on. Le Cléac’h took full advantage and leapt to the front closely followed by Vincent Riou on PRB and Sébastien Josse aboard Edmond de Rothschild. Clearly the skipper that was pushing the hardest was Riou as he was the only one among the leaders without the Dali Foils in conditions that heavily favored the boats with Dali Foils.

By the middle of the week Le Cléac’h extended his lead in near perfect Trade Wind conditions. Thompson meanwhile dropped back to sixth and looked to be out of the hunt, but one would be a fool to count him out and true to form he did not disappoint. Alex managed to stay with the lead pack, albeit toward the back of it, and being a wily veteran of the race he had a good idea of where he could make some gains and make some gains he did.

The leaders approached the Cape Verde Islands at a record pace and all but Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss decided to give the island group a wide berth. It turned out to be a big mistake as Alex aimed for the gap between the island of Santo Antão and Ilha de São Vicente. Here I can speak from personal experience. As you approach these two islands there is a funnel effect created by the high mountain on Santo Antão and the increase in breeze can slingshot you through the gap. This is precisely what Thompson did and the race tracker showed him the fastest boat in the fleet by far. Pretty soon he was up to third and as of this morning, Sunday November 13, Thompson and Hugo Boss were once again in the lead.

The next 24 – 36 hours is absolutely critical for the leaders. Ahead of them are the doldrums, or Pot au Noir, the Black Pot as the French like to refer to the region and for good reason. As the leading boats approach this inter-tropical-convergence-zone (ITCZ) they will slow as the winds turn light and variable. The doldrums expand and contract depending on the pressure from the Southern Hemisphere pushing against the Azores High and it’s a game of chess to find the narrowest point and aim for it. Hugo Boss is currently leading followed closely by Vincent Riou on PRB, The Jackal on Banque Populaire, and Seb Joss on Edmond de Rothschild. They will be into the Black Pot by tomorrow and it’s anyones guess who will find the fresh breeze of the Southern Hemisphere first because it’s that skipper and boat that will then pull away from the pack. It’s always like that; get your nose into new wind and you can do a horizon job on your competitors. Around the bouys or around the world, sailing strategy is pretty much the same.

 -Brian Hancock.