No let up in sight from the Vendee Globe leaders
Although everyone expected the new generation of foiling IMOCA 60s to be at the forefront of the 2016-17 edition of the Vendee Globe, few could have predicted the blistering pace that the front runners maintained for the first four weeks.
A dream weather scenario slingshotted the leading pack out of the Bay of Biscay and down to the equator in a record time of under ten days. Once in the southern hemisphere, the going continued to be better than good for the leading pack who slipped effortlessly through the Doldrums and hooked straight into the trade winds.
The trio of foilers at the front of the fleet, Britain’s Alex Thomson and the two Frenchmen, second placed Armel Le Cléac’h and third placed Sebastien Josse, all smashed the previous race record time to the Cape of Good Hope by more than four days.
Thomson got there in a fraction under 18 days; that circa five days (20 per cent) faster than Francois Gabart, winner of the previous race.
Thomson had looked unstoppable until the effects of a broken starboard foil allowed Le Cléac’h to grind the Briton’s more than 100-mile lead down to nothing as the pair skirted the northern edge of the race-imposed ice exclusion zone. The two skippers have been trading the lead back-and-forth between them ever since.
At this point, Le Cléac’h - who has finished second in the last two editions of the Vendee Globe - will likely be feeling the happiest. He is in a battle for the top spot against a boat he knows to be severely compromised in the upwind conditions he knows will come before the end of the race. His next closest rival, Josse, is more than 500 miles astern.
Thomson knows he needs to push the pace as hard as he dares in the hope that Le Cléac’h will make a mistake or suffer an equipment breakage of his own. Aerial video footage of the British boat passing the Kerguelen Islands showed him doing just that.
Sailing in 25 – 30 knots of breeze with two reefs in the mainsail and a staysail and fractional code zero gennaker set the black Hugo Boss yacht looked insanely heeled and on the edge of control as it blasted past in a huge ball of spray.
Going into the final weekend of their first month at sea Thomson and Le Cléac’h may need to switch their focus away from racing and on to seamanship for a time. Weather conditions in the southern Indian Ocean are forecasted to worsen and the pair may have to ride out their first low latitude storm system of the race.