Vendée Globe Day 18: First sniff of the big South

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As race leader Charlie Dalin starts to finally feel like he is on the threshold of the big south, where he will race for the first time in his life, his closest rival Thomas Ruyant reported damage to the port foil of his IMOCA LinkedOut.

Ruyant was resting inside his boat during last night, around 0200hrs UTC, when he heard a loud bump. When he went on the deck of LinkedOut he quickly saw that his port foil was cracked. Team manager Marcus Hutchinson explained on Vendée Live today:

“Thomas was sleeping and about three o’clock this morning he heard a bang which woke him up and he rushed on deck and realised his port foil had some big cracks in it. He realised it is intact, it is still there but has some pretty bad cracks in it. It is quite badly damaged and so he slowed the boat down and contacted us straight away. Thomas had had a pretty tough few days with a few other little technical issues on board. He got quite tired and as we see it has been an extraordinarily tricky South Atlantic for him and for Charlie Dalin in that breakaway part of the Saint Helena high. And so the stress of staying up and trying to find a way through that, plus a few other issues and then this. Thomas had gotten himself into a pretty tired state. And so when this happened he slowed the boat down, he went to bed and he woke up this morning. And meantime we were all working away at what the problems will be and what the solutions might be. And so he has managed to retract the foil. Our foils don’t retract fully, they retract about 1.2m into the boat and he is sailing along at the best speed right now. His boat is not compromised on port tack at all as he has the starboard foil.”

Ruyant was reported to be nonetheless in good spirits, maybe not least in the knowledge that British skipper Alex Thomson still managed to finish a very close second to Armel Le Cléac’h after losing his starboard foil on Day 13 of the 2016-17 race. Ruyant has more than 286 miles of a cushion over third placed Jean Le Cam (Yes We Cam!) although Thomas Ruyant spent some of today slowed.

Dalin was at 38 degrees south this afternoon, some 150 miles west of the volcanic islands of Tristan de Cunha, the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The two leaders will be feeling it noticeably cooler now even if they still have another 150 miles of light upwind conditions to get to the south. It is looking increasingly like their routing will take them as far south as the Antarctic Exclusion Zone, the virtual barrier which they must stay north of all the time to keep them out of ice territory. The leaders will therefore be forced to gybe along this virtual wall at least to the longitude of the Cape of Good Hope.

Nineteen of the 32 IMOCAs racing on this ninth edition of the solo non-stop round the world race are now under the influence of the Saint Helena high pressure system in the South Atlantic. Increasingly there seems to be a chance of some of the middle order boats recovering miles by choosing to dive more directly south and catching either the west side of the high pressure which is moving quite quickly east, or hooking on to the top edge of a low. Either way, when this looked painful a few days ago, it is now appearing like a golden opportunity.

Britain’s Sam Davies, a smart meteo strategist in her own right, was one of the first to recognise this and dived south at the right time to pull back around 100 miles on Louis Burton (Bureau Vallée 2) and now lead the skipper from Saint Malo by seven miles this evening. Davies is now ninth and was still one of the quickest in the fleet this afternoon. She was sailing within sight of Burton yesterday and for some of today.

So, too was Germany’s Boris Herrmann (SeaExplorer-Yacht Club de Monaco) who is fifth, filming Yannick Bestaven (Maître CoQ) at close quarters yesterday and they are still only a couple of miles apart this evening.

Britain’s Alex Thomson should have stabilised his losses on the fleet after completing his marathon repair effort in the bow section of HUGO BOSS. This evening he is eighth 646 miles behind the leaders.

Alex Thomson Racing’s Technical Director:

“Alex is just finishing off some tidying up. He has done a great job and is now back focussing on the racing. We are lucky where it happened and also that we carry more spares than a lot of teams. So he is on a bit of a high, he worked incredibly hard to complete the repairs, it is a horrible place in the boat to have to work.”

Guest on the Vendée Live programme today was Antoine Mermod, the President of IMOCA – Asked if the current new generation of Vendée Globe are at the top of the technical curve and the constant drive for more speed may need to be reined in, Mermod said:

“When you see what they are doing at the America’s Cup you can see that they are a lot of improvements, maybe for the next Vendée Globe, maybe not, that is what we are working on with the technical committee. But there are always ways to improve and to make better boats.

“For the foils I do think that we will try to limit the size of the foils and we are also working on the cost and the time it takes to build the foils. It is very complicated to build such a piece and now we have 19 boats with foils, maybe there will be 25 or 30 next time. We need to find the right balance so that most of the teams can build these foils on time and also test them in time for a reasonable cost. We are working with the technical committee which comprises most of the technical managers of the teams, plus designers, plus builders. We are working every week now to prepare the rule for the Vendée Globe 2024.”

Weather Update from Tom Harrison of TH Meteorology:

The situation for Charlie Dalin at the front of the fleet is anything but simple and, although the routing is showing a clean exit into the roaring fourties, I think there is the potential for some unfortunate surprises for him yet. As we have seen over the last few days, the interaction between the low centre to the east and the high pressure to the west is not being handled particularly consistently from one model run to another and I expect this trend to continue. This is particularly the case for the exactitudes of the ridge axis that Dalin and Ruyant must cross to get south and into the westerlies. It is perfectly likely that they will face some very tricky, light and shifty conditions still as they make the transition across, probably made worse by small scale clouds and showers. I think they will be focussing hard over the next 24 hours to keep the boats going and making ground southwards to try and minimise potential losses to the trailing pack further west. Unfortunately for Ruyant, with the damage he sustained last night placing him further to the west than Dalin, it is now much less likely that he will find a clean exit south.

The story is quite different for the groups further to the west. The high centre will start moving eastwards quite quickly as a depression develops to the east of the Andes and starts to displace the high away. This depression is going to be key for the western pack and as it squeezes against the high to the east it will bring some fast downwind sailing conditions for them once they enter the south proper. The eastward movement of the high pressure is fast enough that any minor discrepancies between models or successive model runs will not cause the likes of Sam Davies, Louis Burton and Alex Thompson too many headaches with their routing over the next 36 hours. I think they can be confident that the weather files they have now are going to be a fair representation of the truth for at least this long. I think the same is true as well for the group made up of Boris Hermann, Kevin Escoffier and Yannick Bestaven further to the east.

I think we should see Jean Le Cam start to escape the light winds quite shortly and make it into the same light south-easterlies that Boris reported this morning. If this is the case and we see Le Cam make it out of the light winds cleanly, I think it is safe to say that he has once again sailed a very wily routing through another particularly complex weather setup.

It is tough to say who will make the biggest gains through the final parts of this transition into the south, but the complexity of the situation will certainly make for exciting spectating over the next 24 hours!

Rankings at 17H00 UTC:

Pos Sail No Skipper / Boat Name DTF (nm) DTL (nm)
1 FRA 79 Charlie Dalin / APIVIA 18960 0
2 FRA 59 Thomas Ruyant / LinkedOut 19043.9 83.9
3 FRA 01 Jean Le Cam / Yes we Cam ! 19318.5 358.5
4 FRA 85 Kevin Escoffier / PRB 19421.9 461.9
5 MON 10 Boris Herrmann / Seaexplorer ‑ Yacht Club De Monaco 19443.2 483.3
6 FRA 17 Yannick Bestaven / Maître Coq IV 19444.4 484.4
7 FRA 4 Sébastien Simon / ARKEA PAPREC 19544.3 584.3
8 GBR 99 Alex Thomson / HUGO BOSS 19609 649.1
9 FRA 109 Samantha Davies / Initiatives ‑ Coeur 19643.1 683.1
10 FRA 18 Louis Burton / Bureau Vallée 2 19651.7 691.7
11 FRA 09 Benjamin Dutreux / OMIA ‑ Water Family 19699.8 739.9
12 FRA 1000 Damien Seguin / Groupe APICIL 19735.1 775.2
13 ITA 34 Giancarlo Pedote / Prysmian Group 19768.1 808.1
14 FRA 53 Maxime Sorel / V And B Mayenne 19801.2 841.3
15 FRA 27 Isabelle Joschke / MACSF 19828.4 868.4
16 FRA 49 Romain Attanasio / Pure ‑ Best Western Hotels and Resorts 19956.9 997
17 FRA 30 Clarisse Cremer / Banque Populaire X 19963.1 1003.1
18 SUI 7 Alan Roura / La Fabrique 20035.9 1075.9
19 FRA 92 Stéphane Le Diraison / Time For Oceans 20147.5 1187.5
20 FRA 14 Arnaud Boissieres / La Mie Câline ‑ Artisans Artipôle 20761.6 1801.6
21 ESP 33 Didac Costa / One Planet One Ocean 20789.9 1830
22 FRA 71 Manuel Cousin / Groupe Sétin 20790.5 1830.5
23 GBR 777 Pip Hare / Medallia 20805.5 1845.5
24 FRA 02 Armel Tripon / L’Occitane en Provence 20969.2 2009.2
25 FRA 72 Alexia Barrier / TSE ‑ 4myplanet 21306.3 2346.3
26 FRA 50 Miranda Merron / Campagne de France 21314.3 2354.3
27 FRA 56 Fabrice Amedeo / Newrest ‑ Art et Fenetres 21335.6 2375.6
28 FRA 83 Clément Giraud / Compagnie du lit ‑ Jiliti 21339.1 2379.2
29 FIN 222 Ari Huusela / Stark 21417.4 2457.4
30 FRA 69 Sébastien Destremau / Merci 21440.6 2480.6
31 JPN 11 Kojiro Shiraishi / DMG MORI Global One 21596.6 2636.6
32 FRA 8 Jérémie Beyou / Charal 22041.1 3081.1
RET FRA 6 Nicolas Troussel / CORUM L’Épargne    

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