On day 56 the leader closes on the most notorious cape of all...
French solo sailor Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia) has been in pole position of the Vendée Globe so far for 18 days, but things are far from a foregone conclusion.
Memories can be short in yacht racing ? recall how dominant Loick Peyron seemed on Gitana Eighty just a few weeks ago, how determined Mike Golding (Ecover) and Seb Josse (BT) appeared? When it comes to the Vendée Globe it really isn’t over until the fat lady sings ? or until the first boat negotiates not just Cape Horn, but the Atlantic, the Doldrums, the Bay of Biscay, and is safely tied up alongside the winners’ flags in Les Sables.
Whilst the northerly climb back up the Atlantic is rarely as evocative as the journey around the Southern Oceans, it can be equally punishing for both men and boats. Many have seen their dreams of victory fade away between the Horn and the Vendée coast. In 2004, it was here that Mike Golding, who had grabbed the lead in the race, was forced to relinquish it after his mainsail halyard broke twice. What’s more, it was just 50 miles from Les Sables d’Olonne that Ecover lost its keel after surviving the tortures of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
It was off the coast of Brazil that Australian skipper Nick Moloney was also forced to retire after losing his keel. Others suffered minor damage – problems with Sébastien Josse’s engine, Dominique Wavre’s runners, Conrad Humphreys’ keel ram… Only the two frontrunners made it through unscathed. In previous editions, Philippe Poupon’s boat then in second place was dismasted in the Atlantic in 1993 and Bertrand de Broc lost his keel there in 1997 less than 500 miles from the finish?
This time around, if all goes well, Michel Desjoyeaux looks set to be the first to round Cape Horn – probably at around midnight on Sunday, between two and four hours ahead of Roland Jourdain (Veolia Environnement), who is currently 63.3 miles behind. The wind should be relatively kind as this duo passes the tip of South America, with a forecast of a 20-knot westerly and clear skies.
But when air masses meet the sea, combined with the influence of the Andes and the proximity of the Antarctic (the Drake Passage is barely 500 miles wide) it can create some unpredictable weather patterns. Indeed, conditions seem much less clear after Sunday, as the wind is set to ease off in the Pacific after this huge low-pressure area, only to strengthen again mid-week.
In fourth and fifth, Vincent Riou (PRB) and Armel Le Cléac’h (Brit Air) – still separated by just 23.5 miles – currently find themselves on the edge of a low-pressure area, which stretches right down to Antarctica’s Bellingshausen Sea, which is being strengthened by a second low rolling around the first, bringing north-westerly winds in excess of 40 knots for the frontrunners. The wind is due to ease off and back westerly, so Foncia has chosen to head south, anticipating this shift to get out of the storm, while the two chasing after him have opted for a route closer to the South American continent.
For more see: www.vendeeglobe.org