Skippers spread over two hemispheres

Armel Le Cléac’h is the third Vendée Globe skipper to pass into the Northern Hemisphere, with the top three still approximately equidistant apart. With Michel Desjoyeaux leading the charge past the Canary Islands, Roland Jourdain west of the Cape Verde Islands and Le Cléac’h just emerged from the Doldrums, the weather predictions point to there being few opportunities for change before the finish line in Les Sables d’Olonne.
The Doldrums have been very kind to Armel Le Cléac’h.  Is it because at the age of 31 he is the youngest competitors left in the race?
Even with his 82-hours of redress, the task of grabbing third place looks increasingly difficult for the skipper of Safran.  Along with Sam Davies, he finally made it out of the tricky weather off Brazil and they are now both in the trade winds, but these are weak to say the least, blowing merely between 10 and 15 knots. 
The South Atlantic weather was kinder for a while for Brian Thompson and Dee Caffari, who stepped up the pace to narrow the gap on Guillemot and Davies, but now they find themselves having to endure the frustrating ‘Rio Doldrums’ conditions their predecessors have just escaped from. 
In the 15h rankings, Bahrain Team Pindar was down to 7 knots and Aviva was only managing five. On Saturday evening Thompson had his first taste of just how unpredictable these localized squalls and calms, with big wind sucking clouds just like the ‘real’ Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, when he was ground to a near standstill by a cloud. There are just 334 miles now between Caffari and Sam Davies.
Steve White has been plugging his way northwards on Toe in the Water, taking a favourable and very welcome lift as the breeze backed for him today. With his route blocked by the high pressure ridge, his improved angle was a source of some satisfaction on a leg which has so far mostly been directly on Toe in the Water’s Achilles Heel, upwind in 15-20 knots of wind.
Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia)
“The wind has eased off to between 10 and 15 knots.  We’ve got  some fine weather.  It’s nice that it’s calming down a bit, as we’ve really been through a lot in the past couple of days.  I’ve got an easterly wind and am currently on the edge of the high, but it looks like I’m going to be lucky.  There’s a north-westerly wind coming, which should enable me to get around without too much  suffering.  Of course, we’re thinking of the finish, but such a lot can still happen.  I don’t want to dwell on it too much, even if that makes me look a bit of a killjoy.  As we’ve got the wind on the beam, normally I’d have the daggerboard down, but I’m leaving the keel do the work.  Then, if we hit a UFO for example, it’s the keel that will hit and not the daggerboard and so I won’t end up with a hole in my boat.  There are things we’ll be looking at later, concerning some of the problems I have had, particularly with the incident I mentioned before, and we’ll be trying to improve things while maintaining the boat’s potential.  There are a few little things here and there, but nothing major, because I think she is already doing very well.  It’s only natural that when you look at your baby, you only see the good things I suppose.  The only thing that could improve her inside is if there was greater visibility.  I think that’s what is missing the most.  I’m not worried about the lack of comfort, as this keeps the weight down and that is key to her performance in this type of race.  I am feeling a bit more relaxed about how we’ll do in the rankings and if nothing else happens, I think the result is fairly clear.  I have a good weather system ahead. Of course, we have to remain cautious and it would be crazy at this point to go all out, but with a  lead of 500 miles, that means I can relax a bit. »

Steve White, GBR, (Toe in the Water): “I am absolutely hard on the wind. It is pretty painful stuff really. It doesn’t seem like there is an in sight. We are in that weather that the boat does not work very well. 16-22 knots upwind. It seemed like through the night we were hideously under powered or hideously overpowered. I settled for one reef and a staysail and are just plugging away.

” I am being lifted at the moment quite nicely which is good, because if not I would have to make a nasty tack to the west to avoid this high pressure in front of us, but here I am being lifted and so I won’t have to do that.”

I don’t think this boat has ever worked very well in this wind range upwind. It is a short stumpy rig and all the sails are very low aspect ratio. The headsails are tacked a very long way forwards, they are quite short and don’t go up the mast very far. And so for reaching and running, but the centre of effort is quite low, the heeling moment is low, and so it is ideal for running and reaching . Upwind with the headsails tacked so far forwards, all that happens is that the bow blows off, and then as the wind builds the boat makes more and more leeway. Then the staysail is really small compared to the Solent to stop generating leeway, but the compromise seems to be to use the staysail and one reef, but that is one of the reasons that the boats with daggerboards work so much better, like Calli (Arnaud Boissiere)’s boat which has daggerboards and much higher aspect sails. If it was blowing 30 knots we would be fine.
 Brian Thompson, GBR, (Bahrain Team Pindar): “I was just entering the Rio Doldrums – that front which stretches off the coast there – and there was just an enormous area of calm and cloud appeared at sunset and just sucked away all the wind, and any wind there was just in all sorts of different directions and so I was going sideways, backwards it seemed.”