The challenges continue for far flung Vendee Globe fleet
The Everest of ocean racing is entering the final stages as one by one, the fleet rounds Cape Horn and the long Atlantic ascension begins.
The stage is set for a sprint finish into Les Sables d'Olonne. Race leader Armel Le Cleac'h on Banque Populaire has a slender lead to defend as he picks his way through the Doldrums. That second placed Alex Thomson has reduced an 800nm to less than 100nm as he charged up the Atlantic, and set a new record in the process, is a huge achievement.
Buoyed by the fightback and on his favoured starboard tack, his IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss has the edge in terms of performance.. Though two evenly matched sailors, racing on yachts from the same design bureau and marginal differences, it will be interesting to see how defining a role the Doyle sail wardrobe on Hugo Boss will play.
Under 3000nm to the finish, this race is far from finished.
Keep an eye on 3rd placed Jérémie Beyou. His IMOCA 60 Maître Coq is an older boat modified to foil. Excellent hull lines and clever foil development see him as an outside bet for an overall win. That he has sailed blind - without weather reports since Nov 27th when his satellite receiver failed, makes his current position all the more impressive.
All his data to data has been gleaned from Vendée Globe safety reports and updates. He's sailed an excellent race and a strong finish is a huge success for Beyou. Always watch the ones with nothing to lose, he's going for the win and has the boat to do it.
As Ireland's first ever entry to the Vendée Globe; Kilcullen Voyager made landfall in Dunedin, New Zealand following a violent dismasting, with it too went the dreams of skipper Enda O'Coineen.
Embracing the true to the adventurous spirit and camaraderie of the race, his charismatic presence will be missed. The schools programme he started in November, connecting classrooms around Ireland to his campaign will continue. A measure of his commitment to youth sailing and development in Ireland, particularly the Atlantic Youth Trust.
Like many to compete in the Vendée Globe, it was the race within that drove him to enter the race, soak up the emotion of departure down the channel at Les Sables d'Olonne, set forth out through the Bay of Biscay and venture deep into the Southern Ocean.
The attrition rate of the race mounted in the Indian and South Pacific. While their participation in the Vendée Globe is ends, their place in the history books are guaranteed.
The race has always been one several tiers, all bound by the common threads of competitiveness, resolve, fortitude and the absolute pursuit of individual limits (both mentally and physically). The tiers comprise of those competing to win, those chasing a top 6 finish, the rookies and the frontiersmen.
Among the above tiers, the duels have been fascinating to follow. Take the fight for 4th, 5th and 6th. Jean Le Cam's relentless battle with Yann Élies and Jean Pierre Dick shows the invaluable experience an old head brings to the race. 'Le Roi' has optimised the performance of his IMOCA 60 (a fabled performer in her right) and has hunted Élies and Dick for weeks at a relentless pace. This one will go right down to hours and minutes at this rate.
Over the four-year cycle of the race we see new challengers and entrants to the IMOCA class - all with individual aspirations and goals, both individually and collectively for the sponsors.
Hull lines evolve, sail wardrobes become more refined and technology leaps forward. Incremental gains across the board for the IMOCA class. The challenge remains.
One thing is guaranteed for the 2016 edition: the race and the race within continue for all 29 who crossed the starting line.